Photo by banoootah_qtr

Photo by banoootah_qtr

We’ve spent the last few days exploring the realm of bilingual instruction and I have to admit I’m truly fascinated with the subject and its possibilities as it relates to my daughter’s future education. However, all the research has lead me to the realization that, unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of options where we currently live. I used to think I still had plenty of time to figure out what will happen when she enters kindergarten — about 2 years — but now, I’m not so sure.

I know for a fact that private education is out of the question for our family, so I have to rely on the public school system. As far as I’ve been able to gather, there’s a couple of elementary schools each about 20 miles from where we live. Truth be told, I don’t know much about either one of these two schools, but visiting them is now at the top of my “to do” list.

In an ideal world, of course, I wouldn’t have to drive what would end up being about one hour thanks to the morning commute to drop my daughter off at school — especially when the public elementary school she should attend is exactly three short blocks from our house. So, thanks to all the research done to put together this series, I’ve started to wonder: what would it take to get a dual immersion program opened in my school district?

Get Involved

I’m sure lots of you are in the same boat, so let me share what I’ve been told by someone who did just that.

Some of the FLAG (the dual immersion classes offered by Glendale, California’s school district) programs that we profiled in yesterday’s post, were actually born thanks to concerned parents who wanted their children to have an opportunity to become bilingual and literate in their native language.

FLAG’s Italian dual immersion program – which started this fall – came to fruition thanks to the dedicated work of one of our very own Ask an Expert regular contributors, Simona Montanari. Last year, motivated by the fact that her eldest daughter had one more year before starting kindergarten, Montanari knew she needed to start looking at her options.

“I feel that if you are not educated in the language, you don’t truly become bilingual and bi-literate,” she explains. “Plus, I’m aware of the possibility of language loss once children start school.”

Montanari,  an assistant professor of Child and Family Studies at California State University in Los Angeles, has two trilingual daughters whose first language is Italian. Last summer, when she found out about the FLAG programs already available in Spanish, Korean and German, she arranged a meeting with district officials to discuss the possibility of adding an Italian dual immersion program. She was basically told that if she could find enough parents interested in it, they would consider it.

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Photo by jeremybarwick

Montanari got to work. As an expert in early multilingual development, she used her knowledge to spread the word to anyone she thought might listen. And so began her campaign to get at least 20 parents interested enough that they would enroll their kids in the program immediately if it were already available. She explained the benefits of bilingualism to all those willing to hear her out, sent out fliers and mass emails to members of different Italian-American organizations, and told anyone and everyone about the program.

After a few months, she came up short. Fourteen students for the 2009-10 school year, but 30 for the following year. She’d have to find a plan B for her daughter ready to enter kinder in the fall. But after seeing her passion and commitment, how well informed she was on the subject and the kind of presentation she put together for the district, they couldn’t say no. The answer came only four months after she started her campaign.

“It was a dream. I would’ve never thought it would’ve happened, and the fact that it’s happening in a relatively close location (she has to drive 13 miles), is a miracle” she says, unable to hide her delight. “I didn’t think it would happen so fast.”

It definitely helped that when she spoke to the district officials that would make a final recommendation to the superintendent, she not only brought the list of parents who’d commit to enrolling their children in the program, she also presented them with a questionnaire she’d prepared and had asked these parents to answer which measured how interested they actually were to see the program come to fruition. As if all that weren’t enough, during the outreach phase of her journey, she had put out the word to see if she could find qualified native Italian speaking teachers interested in the program. She brought two recommendations to the meeting. The school officials couldn’t be happier.

“Simona was instrumental in getting the Italian program going,” says Cristina Allen, FLAG’s dual immersion coordinator. “Parents need to show the school district they really want this and the more they bring to the table, including sources for funding, the easier the process will be.”

Starting from scratch

Montanari realizes she had a few things working for her: A progressive school district obviously open and committed to the idea of dual immersion programs; three other programs already established within the school district; her background in early multilingualism. But what if you have neither?

“Just because you’re not an expert doesn’t mean you can’t prepare as much information as possible,” she suggests. “Of course, it helped that the district was already open to it. I would recommend you go at it with passion and commitment, show them you know what you’re talking about and recruit as many people as possible who support your goal.”

Allen, who couldn’t agree more with Montanari, added these tips:

  1. Enlist the help of a well-known community leader, a school board member, anyone influential.
  2. Find bilingualism experts who are willing to support you and invite them to talk to those with the power to make a decision.
  3. Offer something extra. If there’s a school in the district — as was the case in Glendale — with declining enrollment, prove how a program of this nature could turn things around.

I am so inspired by all these great suggestions that I feel like getting started RIGHT NOW! Don’t you?

I do want to warn you not to get discouraged or frustrated if things don’t happen the way you envisioned them in your school district. Soon, we hope to explore other affordable options, including Heritage Language Schools, for those of us raising bilingual children. Don’t know what that is? Check out this post Ana Lilian recently wrote about it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey into bilingual education as much as I have. My brain is saturated with a wealth of invaluable information thanks to all the research required to put this series together. We hope we were able to transmit some of it to all of you. Remember, we’d love to hear your thoughts, particularly on whether you think you can take on the task of getting your district to offer dual immersion programs at you local elementary schools? It’d be an enormous challenge, but one totally worth it, ¿no creen?

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