UPPER WEST SIDE — While mere commoners were sweltering in the humid heat, Her Royal Highness Princess Letizia of Spain looked like she'd just stepped off a runway, in creamy diamond encrusted heels and a chic brown cropped suit.
The Spanish monarch was in New York on an official state visit, unaccompanied by her husband, Prince Felipe, who stayed in Spain at the last minute.
Princess Letizia's visit unintentionally coincided with the announcement of a new partnership between the Spanish government and the Department of Education to promote education in Spanish, and so she made time to visit a local K-5 Upper West Side School, PS 75, the Emily Dickinson School, to witness the agreement's signing.
The school has had a dual language program for 12 of its 28 classes, where students speak and learn in English one day and then in Spanish the next, for about 20 years, PS 75 Principal Robert O'Brien said. As opposed to bilingual education programs, in which non-English languages like Spanish are gradually phased out, dual language programs respect both languages equally, he said, adding that it's a model the DOE is moving to adopt across the city.
"You don't have to extinguish Spanish," he said. "You can use it as a benefit, not consider it a deficit."
O'Brien said he saw a request for proposals from the Spanish government for American schools to join the network of International Spanish Academies, which are institutions known for their excellence in bilingual curriculum, and jumped on the project. PS 75 is the first school in New York state to be designated an ISA, among close to 150 across the country.
Spain's Minister of Education, José Ignacio Wert Ortega, visited the school to ensure that the level of Spanish spoken and taught was exemplary. PS 75 will benefit from membership through shipments of Spanish books, curriculum guides and additional teacher training.
Princess Letizia was soft spoken and let the children do most of the talking. They greeted her excitedly in Spanish, sang Spanish songs and clapped their hands, cheering, "¡Muy bien!" Parents stood against walls plastered with water colors, clutching their cameras.
"My son Alehandro will get to meet the princess. He's very nervous," said Marisa Cotrina, whose son is in the first grade. Cotrina was originally from Spain and Alehandro, like half of the students in the program, has spoken Spanish since birth. Most of the native Spanish speakers are of Mexican origin, said O'Brien.
"It's one of the most diverse schools in the city," Cotrina said.
She believes speaking Spanish will give her son an advantage in the U.S. as the population of Spanish speakers grows. "Culturally, [Spanish] is very important to us. It's our roots," she said.
Fifth grader Maddy Choiweir sat cross-legged on the floor of the art room, waiting patiently. "It's kind of exciting to see a real royalty visit our school," she said.
For Choiweir, "it's easier to learn Spanish when you're learning it all day."
O'Brien said there's high demand for dual language programs among parents across the city, but because of school crowding the DOE is only allowing children living within District 3 to attend PS 75.