NEW HAVEN, Conn.—Arriving in this country six months ago, 10-year-old Dorian Vergara could count on one hand the number of English words he knew.
Now, he’s singing, dancing and playing in English, his new American world expanded by an intense summer bilingual-education program in his New Haven elementary school.
Dorian is lucky. Bilingual-education programs like the one offered in New Haven this summer are rare in Connecticut.
The lack of summer programs for non-English-speaking students worries education professionals.
Time away from English classes can set students back months in their acquisition of the language, says Darla Shaw, an education professor at Western Connecticut State University.
“The summer is too long, and often causes lags and gaps in learning,” said Lisette Bernier-McGowan, supervisor of bilingual education for the New Haven schools.
Dorian is one of more than 20,000 students in Connecticut public schools who have been identified as having limited English skills, said George DeGeorge, bilingual education consultant with the state Department of Education.
During the school year, almost 13,000 students are instructed in bilingual education classrooms throughout the state. Seven different languages are offered, including Albanian, Haitian Creole, Khmer, Lao, Polish, Spanish and Vietnamese.
During the summer, few language programs are available, said DeGeorge, who had no statistics.
“Language acquisition has to be a constant, intense process,” Bernier-McGowan said. “It happens naturally, but in order for it to be successful, we need to get students in school year-round.”
Only 255, or 15 percent, of the nearly 1,700 New Haven students in bilingual classrooms chose to take part in the summer program.