Jackson Heights Elementary Schools Help Children Become Bilingual

By Paul DeBenedetto on February 11, 2013 6:33am 

JACKSON HEIGHTS — As an influx of new immigrants has assimilated into Jackson Heights over the past few decades, the population has grown both in size and diversity.

To adapt, some area schools have adopted dual-language programs, where children have the opportunity to learn in both English and Spanish from a very young age.

One of those schools is P.S. 149. The K-5 school, which consistently works with a large immigrant population, benefits from a diverse, welcoming community, said parent Nuala O'Doherty.

"They get great results, and a huge percentage of the kids don't speak English," O'Doherty said. "There's just a really great focus on working with parents, especially immigrant parents."

O'Doherty said the school's dual-language program, where her children spend half the time learning in English and the other half in Spanish, has been extremely successful. Her 9-year-old son, George Patrick, is already fluent in Spanish, she said.

Further, new families are paired with another to help them acclimate to their new environment, O'Doherty said.

Other schools in the area that stress dual-language classes include P.S. 222, which has about 300 students, and P.S. 228, just north of Northern Boulevard in East Elmhurst.

Both were opened in 2002 to address overcrowding in the area.

Since opening, they have become engaging places where English-dominant children can mix with Spanish-speaking students to learn together at a young age, said O'Doherty, whose children have attended both.

"They're just fun, happy places," O'Doherty said. "It's about loving school, enjoying it and learning what school's about."

For the schools in the area without dual-language programs, those institutions still have to address a growing number of children speaking English as a second language. At P.S. 69, for example, more than 21 percent of students are English-language learners, according to Insideschools.

Though it lacks the dual-language focus, P.S. 69, a magnet school for the performing arts, offers courses in guitar and violin. It also receives funding through a federal program called “Nations in the Neighborhood," which allows students to participate in dance, theater and visual arts courses for a 16-week residency program, according to the school's comprehensive education plan.

Here are some of Jackson Heights' noteworthy public elementary schools:

P.S. 69, Jackson Heights, 77-02 37th Ave.

This steadily improving school is now in the 78th percentile of elementary schools in the city, according to its latest progress report. P.S. 69 is also a magnet school for the arts, offering courses in guitar and violin, among other art-centered subjects.

P.S. 149, Christa McAuliffe, 93-11 34th Ave.

This large school has strong parental engagement, helping parents who are new to the neighborhood and the school by pairing them with another family. It has strong ESL and dual-language courses, which have helped students perform well on tests recently, bumping the school up from a B to an A on its most recent Department of Education progress report.

P.S. 212, School of CyberScience and Literacy, 34-25 82nd St.

Opened in 2000 to help stop overcrowding in the neighborhood, the school is now at 134 percent of its capacity, according to School Construction Authority statistics. Still, the school performs consistently well, due in part to an engaging staff and administration, according to Insideschools.

P.S. 222, Fire Fighter Christopher A. Santora, 86-15 37th Ave.

One of a string of schools opened to help alleviate overcrowding, this early childhood school boasts a pre-K program so popular that there's a waiting list to get in. As part of its dual-language program, English and Spanish speakers spend half the day learning in their native language and half in the second language, according to Insideschools.

P.S. 280, 34-20 94th St.

This school opened in 2011, and its dual-language program begins in kindergarten. Students learn reading and writing in their home language while learning mathematics, social studies, science and a second language on alternating days, according to the school's comprehensive educational plan. As the students get older, the amount of time spent on a second language increases.

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