New York: Dual-language schools put in spotlight; Controversial Arabic program just 1 of 70

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri Aug 24 14:33:06 UTC 2007

2-language schools put in spotlight

  Controversial Arabic program just 1 of 70

Tuesday, August 21st 2007

The Khalil Gibran Arabic school has attracted headlines, but it's not
the only foreign-language public school opening in New York this year.
The city has a long history of mingling English-speaking kids with
students who speak another language in schools where classes are
taught in two tongues, but none sparked a debate like the one that
triggered the hasty resignation early this month of Khalil Gibran
International Academy's founder, Debbie Almontaser. The city's first
dual-language French elementary schools will open this fall in
Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. A new Chinese school is planned for
Queens, and several other schools are in the works.

These additions mean the city has more than 70 public school programs
designed to turn every kid, regardless of what's spoken at home, into
someone who can speak English, plus Spanish, Creole, Russian, Chinese
or French. Khalil Gibran won't formally be a dual-language school this
year, but the Education Department hopes it will become one soon. For
now, it will teach Arabic as a second language. Dual-language schools
teach core subjects in two languages - sometimes on alternating days,
sometimes with one language in the morning and the other in the
afternoon. The schools help immigrant kids learn English while giving
English-speaking kids a chance to learn another language.

"Whenever I say, 'My kid speaks fluent Spanish,' we'll be at cocktail
parties and every head in the room turns and they all say, 'I wish I
had thought about doing that for my child,'" said Carolyn Blackburn
whose son, Henry, is a fifth-grader at Amistad Dual Language School in
Washington Heights. "The advantages are just unbelievable." So many
parents are trying to get their kids into the Shuang Wen School in
Chinatown that Principal Ling Ling Chou says she soon may have to
limit admissions to kids from lower Manhattan's District 1.

Paul Gamble, a seventh-grader at Shuang Wen, said his Chinese improved
dramatically when he was assigned to help newly arrived Chinese
students with English. upporters of Khalil Gibran, which is named
after a Lebanese Christian poet, say an Arabic school is crucial at a
time when the country needs Arabic translators, but some right-wing
critics claim the school has an Islamic agenda. Objections have also
come from Michael Meyers of the New York Civil Rights Coalition and
former New York Civil Liberties Union Director Norman Siegel.

They say they're considering a legal challenge to schools like Khalil
Gibran, as they once did to single-sex schools and a planned Latino
leadership school. Dual-language schools strive for a balance of kids,
with half coming from English-dominant homes and the rest from homes
where the school's second language is spoken. Meyers called that a
quota system, saying, "It's wrong-headed, racist ethnocentrism and
racial breast-beating."

Dual-language schools tend to celebrate the culture of countries where
their language is spoken, but advocates say they also teach the
subjects required in all schools.

"God forbid they should be more educated than anybody else," said Luis
Reyes, coordinator of the Coalition for Educational Excellence for
English Language Learners.

Maria Santos, who heads the Education Department's office of English
language learners, said her office is committed to the schools.

"We have [people] coming new to New York who are very much connected
to their homelands ... and they want their children to develop in
their home language," Santos said.

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