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Find the Best Dual-Language and Immersion Preschools on the Upper West Side

By Emily Frost | March 3, 2015 7:56am
 There are a handful of programs in French and Spanish that teach toddlers to speak another language alongside reaching other development milestones. 
Immersion and Dual-Language Preschools on the Upper West Side
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Parents have begun building their own neighborhood dual-language and language-immersion preschools as part of an effort to start students' bilingual education as soon as possible. 

The push stems from a "parent-led" movement, explained Maria Herminia Graterol, executive director of HOLA, a Spanish dual-language preschool she founded with three other families last spring. When Graterol's child didn't get into another dual-language program, she decided to form her own Spanish-speaking preschool. 

A number of other schools have also opened nearby, founded by mothers looking to expand the options for their children. 

Parents are touting not only the cognitive benefits of learning another language as early as 1 or 2 years old, but also the diversity and multiculturalism that bilingual environments promote. 

Like other dual-language or immersion preschools, La Escuelita on West 91st Street wants a mix of native and English-only speakers in each class to create diverse student body.

Kelley Grant, whose 4-year-old adoptive daughter Isabella attends La Escuelita, said she appreciates that her daughter, who is from El Salvador, can see other kids who look like her at school.

"We live in New York — it’s a multilingual city," said Lori Falchi, the administrative director at La Escuelita, which was also founded by parents.

Since the preschool opened in 2002, a number of other Spanish dual-language options have sprung up in the neighborhood, she said. 

"We think the more [programs], the better," Falchi said. If there are more opportunities to get an early start in speaking another language, it increases the demand among parents for dual-language programs at public elementary schools, she said.

Children who don't continue speaking their second language, even when learned very young, risk losing fluency, Falchi added.

Locally, there are Spanish dual-language K-5 programs at P.S. 75, P.S. 84, P.S. 87, P.S. 145, and P.S. 163; a K-8 program at P.S. 165; a middle school program at P.S. 247; and a kindergarten-only program at P.S. 180. 

There are also two local French dual-language programs — a sixth-grade program at P.S. 256 and a K-5 program at P.S. 84 — as well as two French preschools, L'Atelier and La Petite Ecole

While some parents worry that language acquisition takes precedence over other skills at these preschools, Grant has not found that to be the case. 

"You don't want to send them to kindergarten unprepared," she said, noting that reading comprehension in any language is a positive.

To help you navigate this expanded preschool landscape, DNAinfo compiled a guide to local dual-language and immersion preschools. 

La Escuelita
Spanish Dual Language
302 West 91st St., near West End Avenue

At this small preschool in the basement of a church, children who are 2 years old are completely immersed in Spanish, while 3- and 4-year-olds received about 10 percent of their instruction in English. The teachers, who all either have an early-childhood degree or are working toward one, are "really good about adapting to the [Spanish] level of the child. You don’t want to get to the frustration point," said Falchi. 

The school, which hosts 60 families, believes children learn best from experimenting and utilizes a play-based model. There's free time for playing as well as structured learning. The school also sits next to Riverside Park, where the children often go on outings. 

Tuition for 2- and 3-year-olds is $17,840 for five 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. days a week and $22,900 for 4-year-olds for five 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. days a week. There are also options to attend for fewer days a week.

Spanish Immersion Montessori
263 W. 86th St. between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue

Maria Herminia Graterol started HOLA in April 2014 along with other neighborhood parents to create what she describes as a "cosmopolitan school." Artists and musicians visit the school to lead sessions at the school, which is operated out of space in a local church.

The preschool is very small — only 19 children — but it hopes to expand within its current space and eventually find a larger space, she said.

Though all ages are taught at the same time in the open space, small groups break off for different activities by age. But there's also room for younger and older children to make friends and to help each other, Graterol explained.

She and the other founders wanted to be conscious of working parents schedules, so they start at 8 a.m. and go until 6 p.m., with different pickup times within the day for different needs. The cost of five full days is $24,000 a year. 

Spanish Immersion Montessori
131 W. 87th St., between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues

At this family-oriented preschool, there is a balance of both academic time and creative playtime. The school fully immerses children in Spanish and follows the Montessori philosophy. Like other immersion preschools, Amiguitos believes in creating a nurturing environment so children can learn Spanish better. 

The day begins with breakfast and then moves into story time. After that, during "Circle Time," students sing songs in Spanish and play instruments, with both toddlers and infants attending this session. Throughout the day there is also "Work Time," in which children sit quietly and work on skills development, such as motor and cognitive skills. The day also includes a 75 minutes of play in Central Park and ends with story time. 

The school is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and costs $500 a week for toddlers and $600 a week for infants and babies. 

My Little Language School
Bilingual Spanish Montessori
225 W. 99th St., near Amsterdam Avenue

The preschool teaches children in both Spanish and English and believes in nurturing the whole child, including their "social, physical, emotional, intellectual, linguistic, aesthetic and cultural needs."

A typical day includes creative playtime doing art projects and playing musical instruments, but also hands-on activities meant to teach math and science.

There's also an emphasis on learning about different cultures and learning geography at My Little Language School.

Parents who want their children involved in more enrichment activities can sign them up for soccer, piano or Mad Science, a program centered around conducting experiments.

Full-day preschool from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. is $20,700. There are also half-day and six-hour options that are less expensive. 

French Immersion
271 W. 73rd St., between West End Avenue and Broadway

The preschool, which occupies the ground floor and basement of a brownstone and has access to a backyard, has its 2- to 3-and-a-half year olds attend the school in the morning and its 3-and-a-half to to 4-year-olds attend in the afternoon. There's room for 16 children in the younger group and 12 in the older group. 

"The goal is to keep the groups small so we can keep that focus [on what they're learning or practicing]," said Depraetere.

In keeping with the French education philosophy, Depraetere and her colleagues don't rush skill acquisition. They spend a long time developing children's motor skills before they have them write letters.

"The pace is definitely French," she said. For example, the older children will spend about four months constructing a 20-second stop-motion animation clip inspired by the classic book "Where the Wild Things Are." 

But unlike in French schools, L'Atelier has adopted an American inquiry-based philosophy. 

"We like to lead them to discover the answer," she said. 

Children of various ages also spend time playing or sitting and independently working on projects. 

Every week, the group cooks something together in the ground-floor kitchen. They also spend time outside and are planting a garden.

Because of the intense concentration required to learn a new language and focus on learning new skills, L'Atelier keeps the day short. The younger group attends from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and the older group from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Both sections cost $19,500 a year.  

La Petite Ecole 
French Immersion, Arts focused
159 W. 82nd St., between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues

While La Petite Ecole does teach students skills like counting, testing hypotheses and learning to write their names, it's more arts-focused than L'Atelier.

Children create art based on inspiration from visiting artists from the contemporary Virgil de Voldère Gallery and artwork posted on the walls.

The school also has regularly planned field trips to major art museums around the city. 

Children also spend time exploring books, puzzles, blocks and sculptures spread around the room. 

Tuition for five full days from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. is $22,000 and goes down from there based on the number of days and length of the day.