Those who think school’s out for summer have another think coming. On July 30th, Principal Alison Alexander was hard at work, and when I met up with her at 2:30pm she hadn’t even had time to eat lunch yet. In any event, she is intent on promoting her school, “We are like a little gem that people don’t know about,” and she is particularly excited about the Dual Language program that will start at PS 18 this fall. Principal Alison Alexander is starting her 3rd year at PS 18. One of the main reasons she pushed for the dual language program is that, “I want to make sure that I honor the cultural background of the community.”
In Dual Language classes 50% of students are English Language Learners (ELL) and 50% are English-proficient students. Both groups of students receive instruction in English and a target language. The goal of a Dual Language program is to educate students to become bi-literate and bicultural. A vast majority of the programs will be in Spanish, but there will also be some in Japanese, Hebrew, Chinese, French, and Haitian-Creole. PS 18’s Dual Language program will be in Spanish.
Q: Whose idea was to bring Dual Language in?
Principal Alison Alexander: The School Leadership Team. Chancellor Fariña decided she wanted to increase the number of dual language programs across the city. So she opened 40 new dual language programs starting in September 2015. We applied for the grant and were chosen as one of the schools.
Q: Do you have any other language programs?
Principal Alison Alexander: We have ESL which is now called ENL “English as a new language” so they changed the classification. So we have a push-in/pull-out ENL program. This means we have a teacher who is licensed in teaching students who speak a language other than English, and he pushes into the classroom to provide students support with developing language. Then he pulls them out in small groups to give them very targeted support. Now we also have dual language, which is a good thing for this school. The majority of the school population is Hispanic — 84%.
Q: What are some of the aims of the Dual Language initiative?
Principal Alison Alexander: The reason why the chancellor wants this initiative is to make sure the students are college and career ready. In other countries students are learning three languages. So New York City is trying to make sure that our kids are going to be prepared when they leave our school system. That’s another thing that I’m really passionate about: making sure our kids are well-prepared when they leave here. I was very excited when the opportunity [Dual Language] came.
Q: What is the parental involvement in Dual Language study?
Principal Alison Alexander: I’m making sure the parents understand that it’s a commitment — a 5-year commitment — from kindergarten to 5th grade and the goal of the program is to make sure the students are bi-literate so they can read/write and speak both languages by the time they leave. So kids are not just being exposed to Spanish. It’s really cool that they’ll be able to leave elementary school and be literate in two languages. “
Q: Are the parents involved in the homework aspect at all?
Principal Alison Alexander: Absolutely! We have to have a dual language leadership team, which is comprised of parents and school staff, to oversee the program. There are a lot of parent meetings. We tell them [at the Dual Language Orientation meeting in August], “It’s going to be a little challenging at first because they are going to come home with Spanish homework and you may not speak Spanish.” Homework is an extension of what they do in school. The kids will be familiar with what they are being asked to do, and of course the teachers will provide support. Every Tuesday, when we have the parent engagement time, parents will be invited to workshops that will support them..
They actually say that the kids will make more progress with Spanish than English at first. However research shows that dual language students outperform monolingual students. [We will] keep a really close connection with parents [starting] from kindergarten and explain their child’s development every step of the way so they feel comfortable.
I have parents that are very, very vocal and interested in what’s going on with their kids so I have no doubt that I will be getting emails and phone calls about Dual Language! (She laughs goodheartedly). I have to say these parents are really good. When parents call I don’t feel put off. The calls usually go something like, “Hey, how are you doing? I just wanted to ask you … .” It’s actually dialogue, and I’ll tell them, “You know what, don’t worry about it I’ll take care of it.” They’re involved which is important because the kids need their support. I think Dual Language will be good for the parents as well.
I had a parent that came in and I was translating something into Spanish, and I said, “Oh! Can you proofread this for me please?” And he said, “Ah Ms. Alexander I don’t read Spanish.” I said, “You don’t?” And he responded, “No I don’t. I wish I did, but I don’t.” So it’s going to be really nice for parents who come from a Hispanic background, who don’t read or write Spanish who probably speak it, to now be able to see their little ones reading, writing, and speaking Spanish. It’s going to be good.
PS 18 is also known as “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” School because it is reputed to be the school Betty Smith, the author of this American classic went to as a girl. With a Dual Language program in this school the book may become equally known as “Un Arbol Crece En Brooklyn”.