HOST: The deadline to enroll New York City children in dual-language programs has been extended until next week. The programs have become increasingly popular, and the Department of Education recently announced an ambitious expansion for the coming school year, to encompass some forty languages, including Spanish, Japanese, Chinese and Haitian-Creole. But, the popular program isn’t without its challenges.
Attitudes toward bilingualism have changed over the years. For generations, immigrant parents of children who spoke another language at home encouraged their children to focus on learning English. And some still think that way. Robin Harvey is a professor of multilingual studies at NYU.
HARVEY: Those families sometimes feel like their kids should be speaking English in school. So they don’t see a big value in maintaining or developing literacy in the home language. And yet, research has shown that that’s a huge advantage.
She says that’s despite evidence that shows’ learning a second language is good for kids. And that word has gotten around, even to non-immigrant parents. That’s made dual-language programs really popular. But they work best when the classroom has the right mix of native English speakers and native speakers of the other language.And that’s a tricky balance to strike, according to Kate Menken, who teaches linguistics at Queens College.
MENKEN: Bilingualism is far more complex than that. And students exist at all places along the spectrum of bilingualism.
Last year New York City public schools changed the way that parents applied to dual-language programs. But this year school administrators have gone back to the old system. Parents apply to enroll their children in a school first, which then screens the kids to see if they fit the dual language program. Some kids might get a spot in the school but not the program, which is the reason why parents applied in the first place.
DECATUR: I have to say, if you’re a parent looking for a dual-language program, that’s usually your highest priority.
John Decatur is a father with a child who has been in several dual-language programs in the city. He is also on the board of the PTA at a school with about half of its students in dual language programs.
DECATUR: So, you don’t necessarily want to go to a school, you want to go to the dual-language part of the school. So, it’s definitely not ideal. The original deadline for kindergarten applications was today. But the extension is not unusual. The deadline was extended last year too.
For Columbia Radio News, I’m Theresa Avila.