PARK SLOPE — When Park Slope mom Patty Onderko's son Nate hears people speaking Spanish on the street, he peppers her with questions.
"He doesn't want to be left out of anything," Onderko said. "He hears people speaking Spanish and he wants to know what they're saying."
Onderko does what she can to interpret with her high school Spanish, but she's hoping that soon 5-year-old Nate will be able to do his own translating.
Onderko is one of dozens of parents at P.S. 10 in the South Slope who are pushing the school to start a dual language Spanish program.
The increasingly popular programs aim to make students bilingual and biliterate by teaching them all of their subjects — even science and social studies — in both Spanish and English. Dual language classes must include equal numbers of native Spanish speakers who are learning English, and English speakers learning a second language.
"To introduce a child to a second language at 12 or 13 years old is an antiquated idea at this point," said Cara Tabachnick, a future P.S. 10 parent who's helping to organize the dual language effort.
"Language development really comes naturally when a child is 5 or 6," Tabachnick said. "Parents, especially parents who live in Park Slope, really recognize that. For our children to compete in the global economy, even though English is the global language, they still need to have the ability to speak at least one other language."
If the parents succeed, P.S. 10 would be the first neighborhood school in Park Slope with a Spanish dual-language program. P.S. 133 on Fourth Avenue and Eighth Street has both Spanish and French dual-language programs, but it's now a choice school open to children from both District 13 and 15, with preference given to low-income kids and English learners.
M.S. 51 on Fifth Avenue and Fifth Street is launching a French dual-language program this fall that will help students from P.S. 58, which has a French dual-language program, continue their Francophone education.
Tabachnick said P.S. 10's program could serve a similar function for children who've attended the growing number of Spanish immersion private preschools in the neighborhood, such as El Pequeño Artista, Juguemos a Cantar, and One World Project.
To get the program up and running, P.S. 10 parents must prove to the Department of Education that there's heavy demand for bilingual education from both native Spanish and English speakers. The start-up process can be lengthy; it took M.S. 51 three years, according to Inside Schools.
So far roughly 50 parents have backed the idea by signing an online form, and many teachers expressed interest when Principal Laura Scott surveyed staff recently. Scott and some staff will soon observe dual language programs as P.S. 58 in Carroll Gardens and P.S. 24 in Sunset Park to learn more about how the programs work.
"I think it's a fabulous idea, however I still have to make sure the staff is comfortable with it and that l'll be able to accommodate it from kindergarten to fifth grade," Scott said. "I have to make sure there's building space to do that."
P.S. 10, on Seventh Avenue and Prospect Avenue in the South Slope, could be facing a space crunch this fall. The school's zone was recently enlarged as part of a rezoning meant to relieve overcrowding at P.S. 321 and P.S. 107.
Scott said she'll know more about how the changes will affect her school after kindergarten registration closes in early March. Scott said she wants to make sure a dual language program — which could eat up some classroom space — won't cost the school space for enrichment programs like art and music.
Parents say a dual language Spanish program would be a natural fit at diverse P.S. 10, where the student body is 41 percent white, 38 percent Latino, and 14 percent African-American, according to the most recent data.
P.S. 10 mom Maria-Christina Villasenor, who grew up speaking Spanish at home with her Mexican immigrant parents and English elsewhere, said a dual-language program would help her son hold on to his Mexican heritage. The program could also unite the school, which is a blend of a "well-to-do Park Slope contingent" and a Latino community with a fair amount of recent immigrants, Villasenor said.
"We have a really unique opportunity at P.S. 10, because it's a very diverse and people come from different means and abilities," Villasenor said. "It's a case where we can lift the whole tide up. It will provide a boon to English speakers and it will provide a boon to dominant Spanish speakers who are just starting to access education."