February 11, 2015

District Approves Dual Language Program, Community Park Pilot to Begin September

The Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (BOE) approved a Spanish/English Dual Language Immersion (DLI) Program last week.

The pilot program will be open only to students entering kindergarten and first grade at Community Park School (CP) this September. Parents will be able to choose whether to have their kindergartners and first-graders learn partly in English and partly in Spanish.

The district is adopting a 50/50 model, in which half of the core instruction will take place in Spanish, and the other half in English.

The pilot program will be offered for a trial period of two years and only at Community Park School. If successful, the pilot may serve as the springboard for expansion of the DLI program model. Evaluation of its success will be based on several factors, including “parent interest, community demand, financial/budgetary considerations, the impact on the school’s unity and culture, impact on students who are not in the program, instructional delivery, staffing capacity, and demographic context of the district.”

CP serves a large number of Latino pupils, drawn from the immigrant community living in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood. Students who enter as first graders this fall will continue the program in the second grade in September 2016.

Math and science instruction will be given in Spanish. Social studies, English language arts and the “specials” classes of gym, art, music and library will be in English.

“I am very excited about this innovative, evidence-based initiative at Community Park,” said BOE member Andrea Spalla, who credits Priscilla Russel, the district’s Supervisor for World Languages and English as a Second Language under former Superintendent of Schools Judy Wilson, for first bringing the idea to the Board three years ago.

“It was clear that Priscilla had already been researching and thinking about the DLI concept for a long time; she made a very compelling and well-supported case for her vision,” said Ms. Spalla, adding that Community Park School is an optimal school to pilot the new program: it serves native Spanish-speaking children and families in the neighborhood; it already has several bilingual certified classroom teachers; and it’s already, in many ways, a culturally and demographically “global” school.

Parent survey responses suggested a high level of interest in the program. Several parents urged the board to vote for the pilot at last week’s meeting. “I’ve heard from many more that there is much positive ‘buzz’ about the program among CP parents,” said Ms. Spalla.

CP principal Dineen Gruchacz embraced the chance to introduce bilingual teaching. “She never once hesitated, but immediately saw the promise of a DLI program for her school’s children, and embraced the idea and the work wholeheartedly,” said Ms. Spalla.

The CP principal included several parents and many of her teachers and staff members in the planning process. According to Ms. Spalla, this has been key in establishing the pilot.

“Because this DLI program is a very different instructional delivery model than what our classroom teachers are accustomed to, and because it requires an unusually intensive level of collaboration between the DLI classroom teachers, the teachers’ involvement in the planning process and their firm support for the implementation has been not merely helpful but absolutely essential,” said Ms. Spalla. “The Board is immensely grateful for their work and their courage in taking on this exciting new challenge for our students.

While there are more than 2,000 schools nationwide with dual language programs, only three districts in New Jersey offer such instruction. After the test period, the program will be evaluated to see whether it should be expanded.

According to the district’s website, “Research over the last 30 years shows that dual language instruction can produce important benefits for students, including enhanced cognitive skills, a heightened sense of global citizenship and higher second language proficiency.”

Interested parents of students who will be entering kindergarten at Community Park this fall are being advised to attend one of two information sessions being offered at the school, on Thursday, February 12, at 9 a.m., and Tuesday, February 17, at 6:30 p.m.

A number of information sessions for parents of rising first graders have already been offered over the past months.

A lottery will be held if parent interest at Community Park exceeds classroom capacity.

For more information about the DLI program, visitwww.princetonk12.org/Dual_Immersion.