First Person

Voices: In support of dual language

Teacher Karen Farquharson says America needs to step into the 21st century’s global society by supporting dual language programs that produce bilingual, bicultural citizens.

Americans are amazed by people who can speak two languages, and dazzled by polyglots who navigate more than two languages successfully. Yet, unlike schools in most of the world, our schools turn out monolingual students, even going so far as to take immigrant students and strip them of their first language in order to replace it with English.

Why don’t we step into the 21st century’s global society by implementing an educational model that puts American children on a level playing field with the rest of the world, a world in which most grow up fluent in more than one language?

Dual language education does precisely this, and is growing in popularity in spite English-only and transitional bilingual programs that seem almost designed to prevent bilingualism in America’s young people.  Indeed, the explicit goal of early transition bilingual programs, the most common “bilingual” program in the state, is to transition into academic English as quickly as possible, using the minority language only as a crutch until it can be discarded for English.

Not only do dual language programs focus on creating bilingual and bicultural citizens, they also integrate students by socioeconomic status and cultural background at levels unheard of in any other school model in America.  This is an important side effect in a world in which our schools are now more segregated by race and economic status than they have been since the historic Brown vs. the Board of Education decision ended “separate but equal” policies more than 50 years ago.

Dual language programs can close achievement gaps

Dual immersion programs do not just grow bilingual and biliterate students, some models have been proven to do what no other educational model in America can – close the achievement gap between English language learners and native English speakers.

Two-way immersion dual language presupposes a student population nearly evenly divided between native English speakers and second-language speakers.  Denver and other metro area districts use a variety of dual language models ranging from 50-50 to 70-30 but research by Thomas and Collier has shown that 90-10 models get the best results.

The 90-10 dual language, or two-way immersion, model begins with 90 percent of classroom time for all students spent in the minority language, and transitions to 50 percent of the time in the minority language and 50 percent of the time in the “language of power” (typically English) by third or fourth grade. This specific model has been shown to result in above-average academic achievement in English and in the minority language (typically Spanish) for all students, including low-income students, language minority students and native English speakers of all stripes.

In closing the achievement gap between English language learners and native English speakers, dual language programs can lower drop-out rates, teen-pregnancy rates, juvenile delinquency and a host of other anti-social behaviors associated with school failure. In addition, the 90-10 model grows students who are ready to take on the increasingly globalized world through mastery of not only two world languages, but also an ability to successfully navigate the world as one from within a diverse community of people.

Challenges to starting dual language schools can be overcome

There are challenges to starting these schools:  The student population needs to be approximately half and half as far as language backgrounds go, which does not happen all by itself.

In addition, parents and teachers need to be supportive of a less “traditional” approach to education, and many teachers and staff members should be bilingual. Clearly, adhering to the best practices for dual language programs while also fulfilling all other requirements in any district or state can be difficult and demanding.

However, as teachers, parents and citizens, we should be pushing for access to 90-10 dual language education. In an age of JOBS, JOBS, JOBS and Reforms, Reforms, Reforms, this is an area where conservatives and liberals should be able to come together. Rather than growing one group of monolinguals accustomed to homogenous communities and experiences, and another group either forced into monolingualism as an act of self-defense, or marginalized for its use of a heritage language, we should raise a bilingual and bicultural society. Everybody else is already doing it.

For more information, facts and figures on two-way immersion or dual language, go to the Center for Applied Linguistics. If you feel passionately that dual language education should be an option for more students in Aurora, please visit our school website to learn how you can get involved, volunteer or donate.

First Person

I’ve been mistaken for the other black male leader at my charter network. Let’s talk about it.

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

I was recently invited to a reunion for folks who had worked at the New York City Department of Education under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It was a privilege for me to have been part of that work, and it was a privilege for me to be in that room reflecting on our legacy.

The counterweight is that only four people in the room were black males. Two were waiters, and I was one of the remaining two. There were definitely more than two black men who were part of the work that took place in New York City during that era, but it was still striking how few were present.

The event pushed me to reflect again on the jarring impact of the power dynamics that determine who gets to make decisions in so-called education reform. The privileged end up being relatively few, and even fewer look like the kids we serve.

I’m now the chief operating officer at YES Prep, a charter school network in Houston. When I arrived at YES four years ago, I had been warned that it was a good old boys club. Specifically, that it was a good old white boys club. It was something I assessed in taking the role: Would my voice be heard? Would I truly have a seat at the table? Would I have any influence?

As a man born into this world with a black father and white mother, I struggled at an early age with questions about identity and have been asking those questions ever since.

As I became an adult, I came to understand that being from the suburbs, going to good schools, and being a lighter-skinned black person affords me greater access to many settings in America. At the same time, I experience my life as a black man.

Jeremy Beard, head of schools at YES, started the same day I did. It was the first time YES had black men at the leadership table of the organization. The running joke was that people kept mistaking Jeremy and me for each other. We all laughed about it, but it revealed some deeper issues that had pervaded YES for some time.

“Remember when you led that tour in the Rio Grande Valley to see schools?” a board member asked me about three months into my tenure.“That wasn’t me,” I replied. I knew he meant Jeremy, who had worked at IDEA in the Valley. At that time, I had never been to the Valley and didn’t even know where it was on the map.

“Yes, it was,” he insisted.

“I’ve never been to the Valley. It wasn’t me. I think you mean Jeremy.”

“No, it was you, don’t you remember?” he continued, pleading with me to recall something that never happened.

“It wasn’t me.”

He stopped, thought about it, confused, and uttered, “Huh.”

It is difficult for me to assign intent here, and this dynamic is not consistent with all board members. That particular person may have truly been confused about my identity. And sure, two black men may have a similar skin tone, and we may both work at YES. But my life experience suggests something else was at play. It reminds me that while I have the privilege of sitting at the table with our board, they, as board members, have the privilege of not having to know who I am, or that Jeremy and I are different black dudes.

It would be easy to just chalk this all up to racial politics in America and accept it as status quo, but I believe we can change the conversation on privilege and race by having more conversations on privilege and race. We can change the dynamics of the game by continuing to build awareness of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We can also advocate to change who has seats at the table and whose voices will be heard.

I remain hopeful thanks to the changes I have witnessed during my time at YES. The board has been intentional in their efforts to address their own privilege, and is actively working to become more diverse and inclusive.

Personally, I have worked to ensure there are more people of color with seats at the table by mentoring future leaders of color at YES Prep and other black men in this work. Jeremy and I also created Brothers on Books, a book club for black men at YES to find mentorship and fellowship. Through this book club, we can create a safe space to have candid discussions based on literature we read and explore what it means to be black men at YES.

When I think about privilege, I am torn between the privilege that has been afforded to me and the jarring power dynamics that determine who gets to have conversations and make decisions in so-called education reform. White people are afforded more voices and seats at the table, making decisions that primarily impact children of color.

It is not lost on me that it is my own privilege that affords me access to a seat at the table. My hope is that by using my role, my voice and my privilege, I can open up dialogue, hearts, minds, opinions, and perceptions. I hope that readers are similarly encouraged to assess their own privileges and determine how they can create positive change.

Recy Benjamin Dunn is YES Prep’s chief operating officer, overseeing operations, district partnerships, and growth strategy for the charter school network. A version of this piece was first published on YES Prep’s blog.

First Person

I’m a Bronx teacher, and I see up close what we all lose when undocumented students live with uncertainty

The author at her school.

It was our high school’s first graduation ceremony. Students were laughing as they lined up in front of the auditorium, their families cheering them on as they entered. We were there to celebrate their accomplishments and their futures.

Next to each student’s name on the back of those 2013 graduation programs was the college the student planned to attend in the fall. Two names, however, had noticeable blanks next to them.

But I was especially proud of these two students, whom I’ll call Sofia and Isabella. These young women started high school as English learners and were diagnosed with learning disabilities. Despite these obstacles, I have never seen two students work so hard.

By the time they graduated, they had two of the highest grade point averages in their class. It would have made sense for them to be college-bound. But neither would go to college. Because of their undocumented status, they did not qualify for financial aid, and, without aid, they could not afford it.

During this year’s State of the Union, I listened to President Trump’s nativist rhetoric and I thought of my students and the thousands of others in New York City who are undocumented. President Trump falsely portrayed them as gang members and killers. The truth is, they came to this country before they even understood politics and borders. They grew up in the U.S. They worked hard in school. In this case, they graduated with honors. They want to be doctors and teachers. Why won’t we let them?

Instead, as Trump works to repeal President Obama’s broader efforts to enfranchise these young people, their futures are plagued by uncertainty and fear. A Supreme Court move just last week means that young people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program remain protected but in limbo.

While Trump and the Congress continue to struggle to find compromise on immigration, we have a unique opportunity here in New York State to help Dreamers. Recently, the Governor Cuomo proposed and the state Assembly passed New York’s DREAM Act, which would allow Sofia, Isabella, and their undocumented peers to access financial aid and pursue higher education on equal footing with their documented peers. Republicans in the New York State Senate, however, have refused to take up this bill, arguing that New York state has to prioritize the needs of American-born middle-class families.

This argument baffles me. In high school, Sofia worked hard to excel in math and science in order to become a radiologist. Isabella was so passionate about becoming a special education teacher that she spent her free periods volunteering with students with severe disabilities at the school co-located in our building.

These young people are Americans. True, they may not have been born here, but they have grown up here and seek to build their futures here. They are integral members of our communities.

By not passing the DREAM Act, it feels like lawmakers have decided that some of the young people that graduate from my school do not deserve the opportunity to achieve their dreams. I applaud the governor’s leadership, in partnership with the New York Assembly, to support Dreamers like Sofia and Isabella and I urge Senate Republicans to reconsider their opposition to the bill.

Today, Sofia and Isabella have been forced to find low-wage jobs, and our community and our state are the poorer for it.

Ilona Nanay is a 10th grade global history teacher and wellness coordinator at Mott Hall V in the Bronx. She is also a member of Educators for Excellence – New York.