By Alex Ginsberg
As the child of Puerto Rican immigrants on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Dr. Wanda Toledo grew up in a home where both Spanish and English were spoken.
Now, a quarter century later, she is introducing a new generation of children to the benefits of a bilingual education as a school administrator on Long Island.
The 43-year-old Bellerose resident was honored in late March by the New York State Association for Bilingual Education, which named her 2003 Administrator of the Year for her work running the English as a second language and adult education programs in the Westbury Public Schools.
“I was ecstatic,” said Toledo, recalling the announcement of the award at the association's 26th annual conference in Tarrytown, N.Y., on March 30. “I was actually jumping up and down I was so happy.”
In the three years Toledo has served as Westbury's director of ESL and bilingual education, she has instituted English and computer classes at night for adults. But she is best known for augmenting and enhancing the district's fledgling dual language program.
Like traditional bilingual education, dual language classes help immigrant students adjust by providing instruction in both English and the students' native language.
But the dual language concept is different because classes consist of 50 percent native English speakers, who benefit from the bilingual instruction by learning the native language of the ESL students. In most areas that language is Spanish, but dual language programs exist in the New York City area for Chinese and Russian.
“I think it is an excellent model and one that everyone should be involved in,” Toledo said. “Students are learning another language, becoming bicultural. It's amazing to see elementary schoolchildren speak about scientific or mathematical concepts in another language.”
Toledo pioneered the dual language program at her former post in the Long Beach schools, where she spent nine years. Before that she was both a teacher and an administrator at PS 95 in Jamaica Estates.
She holds a doctorate in reading, language and cognition from Hofstra University and is an adjunct professor at Hofstra, Adelphi University, C.W. Post, Hunter College and Brooklyn College.
Dr. Constance Clark, superintendent of the Westbury schools, said she nominated Toledo for the award based on her passion for helping children struggling with the English language.
“She has tremendous dedication and demonstrates the kind of commitment we have to the welfare of young people,” Clark said. “We're proud of her.”
Heriberto Galarza, president of the New York State Association for Bilingual Education, said he was impressed with Toledo's humanism.
“Sometimes you have folks who just because of their position expect things to get done,” he said. “But it takes more than that. That's where the humanism comes in and that actual authentic concern for students who come with myriad needs to be integrated into the general community.”
But Toledo is also a realist. Although she is passionate and committed to the dual language program, she admitted that not every parent she has spoken to was a fan.
“It's a mix,” she said. “You can speak to some people who will rave about it, and others will say, 'Why are you using taxpayer money for this? We should be using English only.'”
Still, she said, such sentiments must be expected in any community, and the majority of the response have been positive. There is currently a waiting list for native speakers to be enrolled in the dual language program.
And Westbury's superintendent is fully behind both the program and her colleague.
She recalled Toledo's passion and commitment when Toledo interviewed for the post four years ago.
“I said, 'I have to have this young lady in the district.'”
Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.