Spanish language pre-school

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Feb 9 16:47:38 UTC 2004

New York Times,  February 1, 2004

On the Upper West Side, Taking Spanish Baby Steps

A class of 2-year-olds from La Escuelita preschool on the Upper West Side
bundled up and marched outside last Thursday morning, ready to paint some
snow. Their three teachers insisted that the children ask for their colors
in Spanish. Abe asked for rojo, Allison azul, Hudson verde and Izabella
anaranjado, or orange. Then they set to work spraying the fluffy snowbanks
(and a stray Mitsubishi Galant), using spritzers bursting with food
coloring and water.  "Estoy poniendo morado!" Orion said. I'm putting

With all the wildly competitive private preschools in a city with 2.2
million Latinos, a dual-language program specifically designed to teach
children Spanish at the age they could best absorb it makes sense. But two
years ago, Jennifer Friedman and Jennifer Woodruff, then new mothers,
tried to find one and could not. So the two women, both educators, opened
La Escuelita (the Little School)  in the renovated basement of a Greek
Orthodox church at West 91st Street and West End Avenue. The first full
session began last fall with 39 students and a waiting list. The school
already has more applications than openings for next fall, and it plans to

Last week, at an information session, a room was filled with bilingual
parents, including Latino professionals, parents with Latina nannies and
parents who just thought it was important for their children to speak
Spanish, learning about the school and, in some cases, jockeying
shamelessly to impress the directors. (They pick students based on how
dedicated the family is to bilingualism.) Raising bilingual children in
New York is harder than it would seem.

"Knowing another language is seen as a priority in other countries, but
here it's looked down upon, particularly in Spanish," said Ms. Friedman, a
bilingual speech pathologist who has spoken Spanish to her son since he
was born. Children pick up on their parents' linguistic indifference, Ms.
Woodruff added, and tilt toward English. Martha Escobar and Sandor
Lehoczky had spoken Spanish to their son, Orion, as much as possible since
his birth, with mixed results. "Before he started school, if you spoke to
him in Spanish, he would understand but would answer in English," Ms.
Escobar said. Her theory: he heard other children speaking English, so he
did, too. After one month at La Escuelita, she said, he started responding
in Spanish.

That is undoubtedly because using Spanish at La Escuelita brings smiles
and praise from the teachers. When Loreto Perez, who is from Spain, first
started teaching her class of 3- and 4-year-olds, she was frustrated: many
of the children did not understand anything she said. But that changed
quickly. And the first thing many learned, before hola and adios? "Es
mio!" she said. It's mine.

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