Speak my language

New York City to add almost 50 bilingual programs, the latest in a push to help English learners

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
P.S. 1 in Manhattan's Chinatown attracts a diverse mix of students for its Mandarin dual language program.

New York City is adding almost 50 bilingual education programs, in a move that could help better integrate schools and also boost learning for students who are learning English as a new language.

The expansion continues an aggressive push under the de Blasio administration to meet a pledge to the state to offer more options for students who are learning English. It also marked the first major policy announcement by Chancellor Richard Carranza, who, in his first month on the job, has often highlighted his own experience as an English language learner when he entered school speaking only Spanish.

Announcing the new programs at P.S. 1 in Manhattan’s Chinatown, Carranza said the city is trying to send a message to immigrant families that their children are welcomed in New York City schools.

“It’s a matter of social justice for many of our students,” Carranza said. “It’s not a luxury. It is our duty.”

Dual language programs are one way the city has sought to make schools more diverse, with parents often willing to travel to different neighborhoods to give their children the chance to learn a new language. At P.S. 1, for example, a Mandarin program also enrolls many black and Hispanic students. Carranza squatted at a small table where students taught him to spell his name in Chinese characters, and one boy corrected his pronunciation of “thank you.”

“We want to make sure these programs are open to a real diversity of our students,” Carranza said.

The latest additions include 32 dual language programs, which split instruction between English and another language so that students learn both. Another 16 are transitional bilingual programs, which gradually shift instruction from the students’ native language to English.

With the expansion, the de Blasio administration has grown its bilingual education portfolio by more than 200 programs — including more dual language options in prekindergarten. The new programs expand on offerings in 10 different languages, including an Albanian program at P.S. 105 The Senator Abraham Bernstein School in the Bronx that officials say is the first of its kind in the city and the country.

Lucas Liu, an advocate for bilingual education who sits on the Community Education Council in District 3, said the expansion is “good news.” But he also hopes the city will also focus on sustaining the language programs it already has. Liu said funding can often be a challenge, especially in dual language classes, since native speakers often don’t qualify for extra city funding the way English learners do. 

“I’m not looking for quantity. I’m looking for quality,” he said.

The city has been under pressure to improve education for its more than 150,000 English language learners, who make up almost 14 percent of all students. In New York City, and nationally, students who are learning English are much less likely to graduate from high school or pass standardized tests.

In 2014, city leaders pledged to provide bilingual classes to every student who is learning English by next year — a promise made after being put on a state “corrective action” plan under the previous administration. The education department on Thursday could not say whether it would meet that deadline, but hinted that finding enough qualified teachers has been a stumbling block.

“I think we’re working towards that goal,” said Yalitza Vasquez, a senior executive director in the department’s Division of English Language Learners and Student Support. “But what we need is to identify teachers.”

Christopher Eustace, the longtime principal of P.S. 105 in the Bronx, was able to build the city’s Albanian program by thinking ahead to solve that problem. He began noticing some years ago that more and more of his students came to school speaking Albanian. So, whenever he could, Eustace hired teachers and office staff who speak the language.

Eventually he had laid the groundwork for a dual language program, pulling from teachers he already had on staff. He said the education department is helping with tuition reimbursement for other Albanian-speaking teachers who are working towards earning certifications to teach English learners.  

“It’s something about knowing the importance of, while still learning English, maintaining that native language,” he said. “It helps you connect as a person.”

breaking

A student is in custody after Noblesville West Middle School shooting that injured another student and teacher

Police asses the scene outside Noblesville High School after a shooting at Noblesville West Middle School on May 25, 2018 (Photo by Kevin Moloney/Getty Images)

A male student shot and injured a teacher and another student at Noblesville West Middle School on Friday morning, police said.

Noblesville police Chief Kevin Jowitt said the shooting suspect asked to leave a class and returned armed with two handguns. The suspect, who police said appeared to be uninjured, is in custody and has not been identified by police.

The teacher, 29-year-old Jason Seaman, was in “good” condition Friday evening at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, police said. The female student, who was not identified by police, was in critical condition at Riley Hospital for Children.

News outlets were reporting that Seaman intervened to stop the shooter, but authorities said they could not confirm that on Friday afternoon.

The Noblesville Police Department has a full-time school resource officer assigned to the school who responded to the incident, Jowitt said. Local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies also responded to the shooting.

“We do know that the situation resolved extremely quickly,” Jowitt said. “We don’t know what happened in the classroom, so I can’t make any kinds of comments about what [the resource officer’s] involvement was.”

Students were evacuated to Noblesville High School on Friday morning, where families met them.

Jowitt said an additional threat was made at the high school, but they had “no reason to believe it’s anything other than a communicated threat.”

Police continue to investigate. They said they do not believe there are additional suspects. Noblesville Police spokesman Bruce Barnes could not say how the student acquired the guns, but he said search warrants have been issued.

Noblesville West Middle School enrolls about 1,300 students. Noblesville is a suburb of Indianapolis, about 20 miles north in Hamilton County. The district has about 10,500 students.

The frenzied scenes Friday outside the school have become sadly familiar. Already, there have been 23 school shootings in 2018 that involved someone being injured or killed, according to media tallies.

Just last week, 10 people were killed and 13 others were injured in a shooting at Santa Fe High School outside Houston. A student at the school has been arrested and charged.

In February, 17 people — 14 students and three staff — were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and a 19-year-old faces multiple charges.  The Parkland tragedy set off a wave of student activism across the country — including in Indianapolis — calling for stricter gun control.

“We’ve had these shootings around the country,” said Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear. “You just never think it could happen in Noblesville, Indiana. But it did.”

Noblesville Schools Superintendent Beth Niedermeyer praised the “heroic” efforts of school staff and students, saying they followed their training on how to react to an active shooter situation.

Barnes also hinted at the broader trauma that school shootings can have on students and communities.

“We ask for your prayers for the victims in this case,” he said. “I think that would include a lot of kids, not only ones that were truly the victims in this case, but all these other kids that are trying to make sense of this situation.”

Watch the press conference:


A Chalkbeat reporter is on the scene:

In a pattern that has become routine, Democratic and Republican politicians offered prayers on Twitter.

temporary reprieve

Parents score a temporary victory in slowing the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Protesters gathered at the education department's headquarters to protest a recent set of closure plans.

A judge blocked the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school Thursday — at least for now.

Three families from P.S. 25/the Eubie Blake School filed a lawsuit in March backed by the public interest group Advocates for Justice, arguing the city’s decision to close the school was illegal because the local elected parent council was not consulted.

Brooklyn Supreme Court judge Katherine Levine did not make a final ruling Thursday about whether the closure plan violated the law. But she issued a temporary order to keep the school open while the case moves forward.

It was not immediately clear when the case will be resolved or even if the school will remain open next year. “We are reviewing the stay and will determine an appropriate course of action once the judge makes a final decision on the case,” education department spokeswoman Toya Holness wrote in a statement.

The education department said the school has hemorrhaged students in recent years and is simply too small to be viable: P.S. 25 currently enrolls just 94 students in grades K-5.

“Because of extremely low enrollment, the school lacks the necessary resources to meet the needs of students,” Holness wrote. The city’s Panel for Educational Policy, a citywide oversight board that must sign off on all school closures, voted in February to close the school.

But the school’s supporters point out that despite low test scores in the past, P.S. 25 now ranks among the city’s top elementary schools, meaning that its closure would force students into lower-performing schools elsewhere.

“Why close a school that’s doing so well?” said Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters and one of the lawsuit’s supporters. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

The lawsuit hinges on a state law that gives local education councils the authority to approve any changes to school zones. Since P.S. 25 is the only zoned elementary school for a swath of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the department’s plans would leave some families with no zoned elementary school dedicated to educating them, forcing students to attend other district schools or enter the admissions lottery for charter schools.

That amounts to “effectively attempting to change zoning lines” and “unlawfully usurping” the local education council’s authority to determine those zones, according to the lawsuit.

But even if the education department loses the lawsuit, the school’s fate would still be uncertain. The closure plan would theoretically be subject to a vote from the local education council, whose president supports shuttering the school.

Still, Haimson hopes the lawsuit ultimately persuades the education department to back away from closing the school in the long run.

“My goal would be to get the chancellor to change his mind,” Haimson said. “I don’t think the future is preordained.”