It's Elementary

Hablar Espanol is to belong. Boca school to become bilingual.

Starting this fall, Boca Raton Elementary School students will learn some of their lessons in Spanish.

And by the time next year’s kindergartners go on to middle school, their teachers, parents and principal hope they will be fluent in both English and Spanish, no matter what their native tongues.

”It will make them better prepared to get a job,” said Principal Alan Goldstein, who told School Board members about the new program at their Wednesday night meeting.

Goldstein said that about a third of the 343 students speak a language other than English as their primary language, and most of them speak Spanish.

Starting next year, students in kindergarten through second grade will have 240 minutes of instruction in Spanish each week. They will have two periods a week of music and social sciences, one taught in English and one that will reinforce the same lessons in Spanish.

There will be an after-school Spanish language program for students in grades three through five, Goldstein said. Parents have reacted so favorably to the news that Goldstein expects he will have to expand the after-school program to accommodate more students.

”Just learning another language is so beneficial to the kids,” said Catherine Largesse, a kindergarten teacher at the school and a member of its School Advisory Council.

The council, a group of parents, teachers, administrators, Boca Raton residents and business people that guides the school, voted unanimously to make Boca Elementary the county’s third dual-language elementary school, Goldstein said. The others are Gove Elementary in Belle Glade and North Grade Elementary in Lake Worth.

While Palm Beach County is adding dual-language programs, voters in California earlier this week decided to scrap bilingual education. A class- action lawsuit has been filed in response. Those against bilingual education
argued that Spanish-speaking students should be taught only English so they learn it as quickly as possible. Opponents say students who know no English now will be cheated out of learning anything.

Here at home, educators see even more dual-language programs in future years.

Anna Meehan, the district director of International Students and Multicultural Awareness, is working to create dual-language programs at the district middle schools that the students from the three elementaries will attend.

Since students can already take Spanish in grades eight and above, they could then learn Spanish and English throughout their school careers.

Bilingualism brings many opportunities, Meehan said.

”One of the reasons the principals very much wanted these programs is that it does . . . make students very competitive for jobs. Especially if they stay here locally,” Meehan said.

As the younger students start learning a language, they are more likely to speak it as well as a native speaker, she said.

In students’ more immediate future, the program will boost the self-esteem of Spanish-speaking students, Goldstein said.

The idea is that English speakers help Spanish speakers with their English lessons, and as of this fall, Spanish speakers will help English speakers with theirs.

”This time, they will be in the driver’s seat,” Goldstein said. Some of the Spanish-speaking students will have to help Goldstein. He does not speak Spanish, but said he plans to take a class.

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