Jesica Flores started looking two years ago for a dual-language preschool in Dallas that would teach her daughter, Cristina, Spanish and English. She couldn’t find one, so she decided to start her own – at home.
She quickly found, however, that the interest was bigger than her Dallas living room.
“I received 150 calls in three months,” said Mrs. Flores, a lawyer who’s staying at home with two young children. “That’s when we knew we had to partner with somebody.”
The partner that she and husband Edwin Flores found is The Science Place, the science and technology museum at Fair Park. Aided by a startup gift of $ 10,000 from the Flores family, the museum’s preschool program, in place since 1957, is taking on a multilingual flavor.
This school year, children in the program can spend a couple of optional hours of “enrichment time” after the regular 31/2-hour school day being introduced to the Spanish language.
Next school year, the preschool’s regular curriculum becomes truly dual-lingual – half of the instruction in English and half in Spanish, with an emphasis on science. In the future, if demand and money allow, the program could add higher grades to the current preschool, which now serves about 100 children ages 3 to 6.
“The world is changing very much,” Mrs. Flores said. “It’s becoming very complex. The combination of science and Spanish together will help children get ready.”
Paul Vinson, The Science Place’s vice president of education, said he doesn’t know of any other science museums offering Spanish-language “immersion” programs. Preschoolers are primed to absorb language and science, he said.
“Life itself is scientific inquiry,” Mr. Vinson said. “Children will ask, ‘ What is this? How does this work?'”
Census figures that reflect a boom in the Hispanic population nationwide show the importance of letting children ask questions and learn in Spanish, he said.
Spanish and science aren’t strangers to the Flores household – Mr. Flores, an intellectual-property lawyer, has a doctorate in molecular immunology – but the couple saw a need to go further.
“We could speak Spanish at home, but children need more of a complete orientation now,” Ms. Flores said. “Spanish is becoming necessary to get along in this world. It’s no longer just a nice thing to have.”