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A Dual Language Program in Montauk?

Thu, 08/12/2021 - 09:13

The Montauk School is in the early stages of exploring a dual language program that would level up students' fluency in Spanish. 

Following a presentation to the school board on Tuesday from an expert on bilingual programs, the assistant principal, Brigid Collins, said the district was hoping to "deepen our foreign language curriculum," though nothing is final as yet.

The expert, M.J. Hantz Greenfield, is a veteran educator who has taught Spanish in various settings, directed English-as-a-new-language programs, and helped write a Spanish-language textbook. She was responsible in 2005 for launching the Southampton School District's dual language curriculum, which now spans all grade levels through middle school.

"The main thing with foreign language is that you have to make it fun for kids," Ms. Greenfield told the board. "You want the kids to come away with the joy of language . . . so that they'll want to continue to learn."

The most effective kind of dual language program, she said, is one in which native Spanish-speaking students and English-speaking students are placed together in the same classroom in roughly equal numbers. They then spend half the time learning math, science, social studies, technology, and their other subjects in Spanish and the other half in English.

East Hampton's John M. Marshall Elementary School started a dual-language program in kindergarten in the 2019-20 school year and has expanded it by one grade level each year since. Both parents and educators have raved about the program.

"You start with one grade at a time and then build it," Ms. Greenfield said. "Southampton started in first grade, and then the demand got so big, so we started it in kindergarten . . . By third grade, these kids are writing and reading in Spanish." 

Ms. Collins said she was looking forward to visiting East Hampton's dual-language classrooms sometime soon, with other Montauk educators.

Jack Perna, Montauk's superintendent-principal, said during the school board meeting that "my feeling has always been that I would like all of our kids to be bilingual."

Ms. Greenfield said that schools with dual language programs achieve just that, with many students taking proficiency tests that yield a "seal of biliteracy" on their high school diplomas.

On Covid and Curriculum

In other school news, a group of Montauk parents attended Tuesday's meeting seeking information not just on Covid protocols, but also on aspects of the district's academic and social-emotional curriculums.

"You have our kids for seven hours a day. Obviously, I love the Montauk School," said Trish deSousa, a parent who said she was speaking on behalf of many others in the community. "I feel we're all on the same page . . . but certain things need to be aired. Is the emphasis on education or moral formation?"

The term "critical race theory" — a hot-button issue that has been debated in school districts west of here — came up during the discussion. This past May, the publication Education Week described critical race theory as the school of thought that "race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies."

". . . There is a good deal of confusion over what [it] means, as well as its relationship to other terms, like 'anti-racism' and 'social justice,' with which it is often conflated," the publication wrote.

Ms. deSousa requested information on the textbooks and curriculum materials used in classrooms in Montauk, and school officials said they would readily provide it.

About social and emotional learning, Mr. Perna told Ms. deSousa and her fellow parents that students' social and emotional health is being emphasized. "And rightly so," he said, not only because of the pandemic but also because children may lack support at home.

"Children who are not loved at home come to school to be loved. . . . They'll learn the math, but they also need to learn the love, too," he said.

"But they also need to learn the math," Ms. deSousa said, noting that many parents want to make sure their children are "competitive" in the real world after they graduate.


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