By Sarina Trangle
Surrounded by community and ethnic news outlets, city Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced plans to open 40 dual language programs across the city next fall.
Fariña drew on her upbringing to provide the backdrop for the initiative during a local media roundtable held at Tweed Courthouse last week. She described watching her father relish a monthly copy of Spain’s “La Republica” and praised ethnic outlets for filling a communication gap, while also saying immigrants should not over-prioritize American culture and English in an increasingly multilingual age.
“We will be opening 40 new dual language schools in September, as my firm commitment to understanding that people who speak two languages are at a distinct advantage,” Fariña said. “Too many immigrants come to his country thinking that they have to become American right away.. You can be American and part whatever else. You bring your culture with you.”
Fariña said principals interested in a dual language programs, where native English speakers and those accustomed to a second language learn one another’s tongues while enrolled in the same classes, will soon visit successful sites. She said dual language programs required a sizable number of pupils who speak the non-English language to function. Off the top of her head, Fariña said there may be demand for Japanese and Russian programs.
“We’ve actually expanded this program to middle school, and we want to actually experiment with high school,” she said. “The difficulty here, honestly, is going to be certified teachers… We’re actually meeting with consulates from other countries… and the union has agreed to help us figure out how to certify teachers who come from other countries if we do not have enough resources within our own city.”
Between questions about Ebola-related bullying of West African students and pre-K outreach efforts to Chinese families, Fariña stressed it was not easy to predict community needs, particularly enrollment needs.
She pushed back against parents’ complaints about overcrowding, saying she believed strained classrooms were clustered in Queens and a few parts of Brooklyn. In such areas, she said multiple families appeared to be boarding in single-family homes and consequently not showing up on the Census.
“We have made a commitment, the mayor has made a commitment, that every child who comes to our doors gets accepted,” Fariña said. “So the unaccompanied minors, we welcome them. We have no idea how many numbers we’re going to find.”
Fariña also fought the notion that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature united pre-kindergarten initiative was pitting those calling for free early education against communities’ clamoring for additional classroom seats to accommodate students currently learning in trailers. The city has allocated funding to remove trailers.
But, the chancellor said in many schools, a superintendent may be able to help principals adjust their budgets to ease crowding.
“I, as a principal, always had a few extra kids in every class, with the permission of my teachers and [school leadership team] because I always wanted to have extra arts teachers,” she said, noting that this allowed her to consolidate classes, hire fewer general education teachers and instead employ more arts staff. “There really are only one or two parts of the city that are genuinely overcrowded.”
Reach reporter Sarina Trangle by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 260–4546.