Any child taking those first unknowing steps into a classroom has
adjustments to make. For young immigrants who speak little or no
English, the transition to school in a new country poses special
challenges.

How do students learn if they cannot understand what a teacher is
saying? And how do teachers, even those fluent in several languages,
instruct a mixed-language class?

An innovative program at School 13 in Clifton provides some
answers. Faced with an influx of Polish-speaking immigrants, educators
there developed “START: A Language Readiness Program” that combines
general studies with English-language instruction.

A bilingual teacher instructs a class in English and Polish, moving
back and forth between each so students can understand. After a year,
and sometimes sooner, the students enter mainstream classes with an
understanding of English and the three R’s.

“If students sat in a classroom and no one understood them, they
would be shortchanged, and other children in the room would be
shortchanged, because as an educator you have to divide your
attention,” Principal Mildred Mastroberte said. “We didn’t want to take
one step forward and two steps back, so we developed the program here,
talked to the state for ideas, and got approval from the superintendent
and school board.”

START is similar to other programs designed to meet the needs of
immigrants, but it is unique in its across-the-board approach. Based on
need, it is currently offered to first- through fifth-grade students who
have recently entered the country.

“It’s an intensive program where we’re not using bilingual
education as a separate entity,” Mastroberte said. “Children can take
pride in their culture; they don’t lose their own language along the
way.”

Last year’s START students, now in English-speaking classes,
perhaps offer the best endorsements for the program.

Without START, 10-year-old Ewa Gasiorowska said, “For sure I
wouldn’t even want to go to school if I’m just sitting and do nothing
because I don’t understand. I wouldn’t know how to do anything.”



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