Washington D.C.: Support a Successful Bilingual Program.

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Sun May 21 20:56:34 UTC 2006

Support a Successful Bilingual Program.

Sunday, May 21, 2006; B08

Each night my 10-year-old daughter reads from a novel in Spanish before
going to sleep. She also writes poetry in Spanish, is part of a troupe
that performs dances from El Salvador and speaks Spanish with her friends
and their families. Her most recent scores on the Apprenda , a
standardized education assessment test in Spanish, place her on grade
level for reading in Spanish and above grade level for math in Spanish. My
child is not a native Spanish speaker. She was born in the District.
Neither I nor her father speak or read any language other than English.
But for the past six years, my daughter has been a student at Oyster
Bilingual Elementary School, a D.C. public school.

At Oyster, classrooms contain a mix of students who speak Spanish as their
native language and students whose native language is English. My
daughter's fifth-grade class is made up of whites, blacks, Salvadorans,
Argentines and Cubans, to name just some of the races, ethnicities and
nationalities. Her classmates live in various neighborhoods, but they
learn and play together every school day. The teaching teams at Oyster
also balance Spanish and English speakers, and the after-school program
has bilingual counselors, so that students receive instruction in both
languages throughout the day. My daughter loves Oyster, and she loves to
learn. And, she wants to keep learning in two languages.

Now, amid the fanfare and fears surrounding the D.C. public schools'
"Master Education Plan for a System of Great Schools" ["Janey Names 6
Schools That Could Be Closed to Better Utilize Space," Metro, May 16], the
District has an opportunity to give more students access to the kind of
bilingual education offered at Oyster. The Oyster Local School
Restructuring Team, made up of parents, teachers and staff, has submitted
a detailed proposal to D.C. School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey and to
the D.C. Board of Education to expand Oyster's program, which now stops at
grade six, through eighth grade. The team also is asking that the school
be designated as a demonstration model so that it can serve as a training
and support site for other dual-language programs in the D.C. school

Included in the just-released superintendent's report on school
consolidation is the recommendation to merge Adams Elementary School, an
"underutilized facility," with Oyster in order "to expand capacity" for
bilingual education programs. The recommendation is a clear sign that the
superintendent supports increasing access to bilingual education, but how
the consolidation would be configured needs to be explained in detail to
those concerned with both affected schools. No one at Adams should be
forced to be part of a dual-language education program, and no
dual-language education program can be successful unless all of the
children, families and staff of the school in which the program resides
want to be part of the program. Each night, when I see my daughter close
her Spanish novel, I'm reminded again of how lucky she is and how lucky I
am that Oyster has given her the ability to connect with the world in ways
that I cannot. I'm optimistic that soon more D.C. children will have the
same opportunity, and I'm ready to work with the system to make that

-- Ruth Ernst

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