An established dual language program
Eight years ago, the dual language program in the Patchogue-Medford School District hit the ground and has been expanding ever since. Today, the district has 25 classes in English and Spanish throughout four elementary schools including Bay, Eagle, Medford and Canaan.
Medford Elementary School, according to Lori Cannetti, assistant superintendent for instruction, was where the program began and has already graduated three cohorts. Eagle and Bay soon followed suit and now the newest addition is Canaan, where a transitional bilingual program just began. Medford also supports that program in addition to the dual language program.
The dual language program is a side-by-side model of half English students and half Spanish students learning both languages every other day in two different classrooms. The transitional bilingual program is for all Spanish speakers who have demonstrated a need to grow in their own language before being pushed into English. In that program, the students are slowly weaned into English classes.
“In the dual language program, the students are able to collaborate and grow together in one classroom every day,” said Dali Rastello, director of the dual language program, English as a New Language and world language.
Sixteen years ago, Cannetti explained, all Spanish speakers attended Medford Elementary to receive any services. Now, four out of the seven schools support bilingual programs. The initiative has allowed the district to service close to 900 ENL students, close to 12 percent of the population.
The state, she said, mandates that each grade level within the district with 20 or more Spanish speakers must run a bilingual program. Pat-Med has that parameter in nearly all its elementary schools. The hard part right now, she added, is finding enough bilingual-certified teachers to expand the program.
Rastello said she has been with the district for only a few years and what drew her was the dedication to bilingual learning.
“This district had the foresight to say not only will this affect the Spanish-speaking population positively, but also it will increase our English population’s knowledge of another language.”
She said instead of simply meeting the mandated requirements by offering the transitional bilingual program, the district engaged their English population, too.
“Not many schools are doing that,” she said.
“We don’t see it as a mandated requirement but more as an enrichment,” added Cannetti.
Each classroom has about 17 to 23 students and, according to Medford Elementary principal Margherita Proscia, by the time the students have had three to four years of learning, it is difficult to tell who the native speakers are in both languages.
“By that time, they are fluent,” she said.
Medford Elementary dual language kindergarten teacher Jessi Sweet said the students learn the Pledge of Allegiance in both languages and in just a few weeks, it just rolls of their tongues.
As for expansion, soon the program will be running in each of the schools that already provide the program in every grade level K-5.
“We have committed to the program and know that every year we have to hire bilingual teachers for the next group,” said Cannetti. “The goal is to one day have the program in every one of our buildings.”
Once the students reach the middle school, which has already happened, according to Rastello, they have created a unique advanced class. Those students, she explained, are placed into a language class that is a year ahead of everyone else every year moving forward. This, she added, makes room in their schedules once they reach 11th and 12th grade to take AP Spanish.
The program is completely funded through the yearly budget and grants help with supplies such as Spanish books.
“The program creates a community,” said Heather Kutnowsky, Medford Elementary School dual language kindergarten teacher. “Our English-speaking community is filled with Spanish speakers and they should be able to communicate with them and be friends with them as opposed to segregating things.”
“It’s a celebration of biliteracy,” said Cannetti. “Other countries are learning two languages because it’s part of their culture and here that was never part of our culture. I think we’re realizing that it needs to be.”
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