Bilingual is Better

An Intimate Experience with a Prestigious Private Dual Language School

Recently my husband and I decided to go through the process of trying to get our daughter enrolled in a prestigious and private dual language school in our city. I honestly did not imagine having to go through what seems like a rigorous process this early on in her academic trajectory. She is almost three, which means she qualifies for the primary school grade classrooms. We learned that there were a limited of spots (~30) with over 125 applicants! We also learned that there are very few, if any, high quality three-year-old academic programs in town, making those ~30 spots highly competitive.

We jumped through all the hoops: filled out the extensive application, had my daughters current teacher fill out an evaluation form about her strengths and challenges, attended an information session, allowed for our daughter to be observed by teachers at the school, and lastly went through an hour long interview with the director of the school. By the time we were scheduled for the final step of the process, the parent interview, we started to question if we were making the right decision (not just financially) and were forced to reflect on whether or not we would fit in well with the current school community.

As I mentioned earlier, I began to wonder if this community was the right fit for us, but really I was more concerned with whether or not it was a right fit for me. When we attended the information session, I realized that it was the first time in my life that I had ever stepped foot in such a prestigious school. The second-generation immigrant of working class parents part of me felt completely out of place. My husband, having grown up abroad for most of his schooling years, attended private schools very similar to the one we were trying to get our daughter into. Not only did I attend public school for the majority of my schooling years, which was all taught in English; I also grew up in a community where Spanish and English flowed back and forth seamlessly. Interestingly, during the interview we were asked the following question:

Interviewer: Which language, Spanish or English, would you prefer to speak in?

Me: (hesitating a little): We prefer to speak in both languages.

Interviewer: Okay. Yes, that actually works well for me because there are parts of the interview where Spanish is more appropriate than English.

When asked to choose a language to speak in I simply could not. Both Spanish and English are part of my linguistic repertoire and they do not reside in separate spaces.  Being concerned about whether or not I would fit in with the school community I decided that I would be my self as much as anyone can in formal interview settings. Hesitantly, I responded that we preferred to use both languages. The interviewers response was a breathe of fresh air. I was starting to wonder if we were trying to enroll our daughter in a school where code switching may not be seen as a valuable linguistic tool, but if the director was willing to do it, then I can only assume that it will be welcomed.

In an earlier scenario, when we dropped off our daughter for her observation I noticed that we were the only parents speaking in Spanish to each other and to our daughter. I also noticed that we were the only Latinos (or in my case, the only Chicana). On top of the class diversity the school needs, a part of me hoped that we could contribute to the linguistic and ethnic diversity that seems to be missing.

A week later we found out we were wait-listed. The news wasn’t too surprising considering the number of applicants and the number of spots available, but at the same time one cannot help but wonder if that was the only reason. We are still hopeful. In a month we find out if there is a spot for the incoming school year.  Ay, veremos…

As a researcher of dual language programs, I have to say that there is definitely a trend occurring. The general public is starting to notice the importance and value in a multilingual education. Not only are public, charter, and private dual language schools emerging nation wide, the spots to get into them are extremely competitive. Parents are entering raffles, others are willing to pay the hefty price tag for the opportunity to learn in two languages. For my family, paying the price means compromising other aspects of our life for an investment in an education that is multilingual, global, inquiry-based, and student centered which should be the standard at every school.

Have you tried enrolling your son/daughter in a prestigious and private foreign language school? If so, what was the experience like?

{Photo by barnabywasson}

Recent Posts