School district rolls out dual-language classes

By ASHLEY HELMS

The Mamaroneck Union Free School District debuted dual-language kindergarten this school year. The classes consist of alternating English and Spanish lessons and will eventually be expanded throughout all grades.  Photo courtesy Debbie Manetta

The Mamaroneck Union Free School District debuted dual-language kindergarten this school year. The classes consist of alternating English and Spanish lessons and will eventually be expanded throughout all grades.
Photo courtesy Debbie Manetta

For Spanish-speaking youngsters who want to learn English, or those proficient in English whose parents think a bilingual classroom is beneficial, the Mamaroneck Union Free School District has a class to meet those needs.

Making its debut in select kindergarten classes throughout the district this school year, the district rolled out its first dual-language classes for English or Spanish speakers who want to learn both languages side-by-side. The program, “Dos Caminos,” or “two roads” in Spanish, is a free program for which parents must sign their children up, according to district spokeswoman Debbie Manetta.

According to Manetta, the curriculum is rotated between the two languages evenly. One day will be taught in English and the next day will be taught in Spanish. Manetta said the program is expected to improve oral and written proficiency in both languages as well as provide cognitive enrichment for young children.

“It was based on research that points to the many benefits of dual enrichments. We’re very excited about the success of the program,” Manetta said.

This year, the program has a total of 48 students split between two classes in the Mamaroneck Avenue School, Manetta said. The classes are being taught by one English-speaking teacher along with two bilingual teachers, Julianna Sage and Kristy Almeyda.

Speaking at the Feb. 4 Board of Education meeting, Sage said the students who are dominant in English will ask the Spanish-dominant children to interpret words for them, which gives the Spanish speakers a chance to shine. Sage said that, in a monolingual class, the Spanish-speaking children would be quiet because they don’t have as much of a grasp on the English language.

Sage pointed to an example of a day in class when a student, who is dominant in English, asked another English-speaking child how to say doll house in Spanish. The child translated  into Spanish for her, and the  student labeled her doll house with the Spanish term.

“So not only are the Spanish-dominant children helping the English-dominant children, but they are getting it and they’re grasping it themselves and, in turn, they’re transitioning [to bilingual,]” Sage said.

The program will continue next year for new kindergartners, but Manetta said the district is looking to expand the option to all elementary grades in the coming years.

“The idea for the classes came from a combination of community members expressing interest over the years and [Superintendent Dr. Robert Shaps] taking a real interest in making it happen,” Manetta said.

In a similar program, the George Washington Academy in White Plains has a Spanish and English dual-language academy for its elementary school students. In the lower grades, students are separated into classes based on their native language, but mix for classes like math and social studies. Starting in fourth grade, English and Spanish is alternated in most classes.

Although he has spoken about the benefits of having dual-language classes in the past, one local activist said he still feels the district is far from being
racially inclusive.

Luis Quiros, a Mamaroneck resident, said he started talking about the benefits of a dual-language program when he ran for a spot on the school board in 1990. He said he doesn’t think the district should’ve waited so long to implement the new classes. Quiros said he would often tell the district that English and Spanish being taught
side-by-side would be beneficial to students socially and
intellectually.

“When you deny people’s language, you take away their ability to improve,” Quiros said. Quiros said, in his opinion, the district was pushed to implement the dual-language classes after the it came under investigation by the U.S Department of Education Office of Civil Rights in August 2012 following a Central School parent’s complaint that the school’s four kindergarten classes were racially segregated.

The investigation concluded in September 2013, and while the district has amended its policy for class assignments, it’s required to report data from district kindergarten classes for the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school years.

Quiros said dual-language classes can help alleviate what he calls the achievement gap myth, which he said suggests that Latino students are less likely to achieve academic excellence rather than there being less opportunities for excellence for Latino students. This includes tests and lesson plans that are in English only without the opportunity to become proficient in English while maintaining the Spanish language, according to Quiros. He said although the new class is a positive addition, policies set by the district are all racist in their underlying message that Latino students aren’t as capable as white students.

“The changes don’t come from the right place. Every policy has its roots in racist thinking,” Quiros said. “Yes, I think [the dual-language classes] will have a positive effect. I’d like to see [the program] grow, but the dual-language approach does not mean the school district is better serving the Latino community.”

Manetta refuted Quiro’s statements. She said the district was not mandated to implement the program in any way. The program makes sense for the community, and so far, it has been working out quite well, she said.

“[Superintended Dr. Robert Shaps] saw the potential of a bilingual program for the community and we’re seeing the incredible results,” Manetta said.

CONTACT: ashley@hometwn.com

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About Ashley Helms

Ashley Helms has been covering Eastchester and Tuckahoe for The Town Report since 2012 and has recently added Rye to her coverage area. Before joining Home Town Media Group, Ashley freelanced for the Daily Voice in Fairfield County, Conn., and was a social media intern at Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic. She graduated from the State University of New York at Purchase with a Bachelor’s degree in journalism and gender studies. She currently resides in the Bronx. Reach Ashley at 914-653-1000 x23 or ashley@hometwn.com; follow her on Twitter @townreport.