May 2, 2016
By Laure Levy
Cherry Preschool has a history of innovation. Over its 24 years, the school has often looked at an issue and, inspired by Robert Kennedy’s often used variation of a quote by George Bernard Shaw, has asked itself to “dream things that never were and say, why not.” Once again, the Evanston early childhood program is trying something new: a twist on its commitment to Latino community outreach.
Recently, the preschool began to think about how the children whose home language is English can meet their Spanish-speaking friends halfway. Is it time for them to learn Spanish as naturally and simply as their friends have been learning English? Would a dual language program be good for preschoolers? Why not.
Ten years ago, Cherry Preschool’s belief in cultural diversity and community-building, coupled with its recognition that there is a growing Hispanic population in Evanston, led to the establishment of a Latino parent and child class, taught in Spanish for children whose home language is Spanish. There is a nominal charge for the class, and if children whose families can’t afford the preschool’s fees enroll in the school after this class, they receive financial aid.
The preschool has several Spanish-speaking staff members, so as the children from the Latino parent and child program continued their education, they were placed in classes with teachers with whom they could communicate. By the end of preschool, they were fluent in English and most were able to bypass public school English as a Second Language classes.
This year, Cherry Preschool decided to focus on the English-speaking children attending preschool classes with Spanish-speaking peers. According to a new study, the United States now has more Spanish speakers than Spain, and the second most in the world, just behind Mexico.
With estimates of 50 to 62 million people in the US whose home language is Spanish, and the prediction that by 2050, we will be the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, wouldn’t it be a good idea to expose English-speaking preschoolers to the language? At this age, it is rather simple to take advantage of the fact that young children learn languages easily in multilingual settings that provide opportunities to play with children who speak the second language. In a play-based, developmentally appropriate environment, exposing the children to English and Spanish will facilitate communication between the children in both languages. Through the innate desire of the children to interact, supported by teachers using both languages, they will organically acquire an understanding of each other’s language.
There is another benefit to a dual language preschool class. We know that young children learn second languages easily. Research supports this. Longitudinal studies at Harvard and Cornell confirm that learning another language “increases critical thinking skills, creativity and flexibility of the mind in young children.”
I have seen this benefit in action. My friend’s preschool-age grandson has an American mother, an Italian father, and was living in Paris. The grandmother speaks several languages herself but was worried about how to handle a little guy who had three languages to learn. The advice she received was to make all three languages a natural part of his daily life. Mom should speak to him in English, Dad should speak to him in Italian, and French would be the language of his preschool and everyday life. And it worked. He is now five-years-old and trilingual.
The Cherry Preschool pilot Dual Language Spanish-English preschool class for three-year-olds will meet on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoons from 12:35 to 3:05 starting in September of 2016. The class will be co-taught by two experienced Cherry Preschool educators – an English speaking teacher (Martha Belmonte) and a bilingual Spanish-speaking teacher (Bea Douma). The children will have the experience of being exposed to both Spanish and English in a natural and nurturing, play-based environment.
Since Cherry Preschool first opened in 1992, the school community has held steadfast to what it believes. At this preschool, children learn more than pre-kindergarten skills through developmentally appropriate practices. They also learn to appreciate others who are different from them and to see the ways in which all people are the same. Above all, children are respected, accepted, appreciated, and cherished for their unique personalities, cultures, needs, and learning styles. This newest innovation of a dual language Spanish/English classroom is a logical step forward for a preschool that has always embraced change.
Source: Chicago Now