By: Drita Gjongecaj/Assistant Principal at NYC DOE
For many generations, learning our mother tongue has played a key role in preserving our culture and tradition as well as cultivating our national identity. But today, in such a competitive and demanding world, the challenges and priorities are different. Nowadays, it is necessary that Albanian language is taught and used at its academic levels even here in diaspora including its four sub-skills such as, speaking, listening, reading, and writing. In today’s global economy, it is very important for our community to be aware that knowing more than one language brings numerous opportunities for prosperity and success. With this purpose, efforts are under way to bring a Dual Language program in public schools in the Bronx as a starting point that will open the path to more programs based on the needs and demands of our community.
What is a Dual Language Program?
Dual Language programs are full time educational models that provide learners with instruction in their native language and English. In Dual Language classes, 50% of students are English proficient students and 50% are English Language Learners (ELLs). All subjects are taught in English for the day and Albanian the following day. In a few years, students are able to speak, read, and write both languages as well as understand both cultures. The goal is to develop proficiency in both languages and ensure that both groups become bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural. Students receive their diploma in both languages.
It is imperative to emphasize that through these programs children are developing language skills and also learning content at grade level in a new language. Not only children whose native language is English will benefit from this program. Newcomers from all regions where Albanian is spoken and know little or no English will learn in the same class with English speakers at a class ratio of 50/50. This is why such programs are also called Two-Way Immersion programs.
Language immersion programs are grounded on scientific research and effective practice from many different schools throughout the country, such as schools in Los Angeles, New Mexico, Texas, etc, where immigrant population is large. Similarly, with an increasing cultural diversity, public schools in New York have been offering Dual Language and Bilingual programs more than ever before. Such programs exist in Spanish, Chinese, French, Arabic, Polish, etc. but none in Albanian.
As I previously mentioned, efforts are on the way in order for our community to finally have the first Two-Way Immersion program in the Bronx, in an area where Albanian population is highly concentrated. I have personally submitted a proposal with the Department of Education and I have met authorities in charge of such programs from the Division of English Language Learners and Student Support (DELLSS) in regards to different requirements to be met before the program gets started. As a community, we are fortunate that Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj has fully supported the idea of a Dual Language Program for Albanians and has been instrumental in pushing the agenda. Yet, a lot more needs to be done. We have to work on aligning curriculum in both languages with the Common Core State Standards, textbooks and other materials in Albanian need to be secured, and NYS Certified teachers who are also fluent in Albanian are needed. Most importantly, we need parents who are willing to enroll their children in these programs. After all, it is the Albanian community that will give the final drive to this ambitious and much needed program in the Public schools.
At this phase, parents may worry that studying in Albanian causes their children to fall behind with the English curriculum and its demands. They may be skeptical and worry that learning in two languages is confusing and could harm their intellectual growth. On the contrary, these two processes assist each other. For a child, learning language is part of their brain chemistry. A child’s brain is literally built to absorb information and that’s why children are expected to enroll in Dual Language programs no later than Kindergarten or First Grade. New research has found that being fluent in two languages from early childhood enhances a person’s ability to concentrate and protects against age-related cognitive decline. Bilingual children perform higher in school and become better observers and critical thinkers. Based on statistics, children who learn in two languages outperform students who learn in monolingual setting. They also perform higher in ELA and Math State Tests. Children in Dual Language classes are expected to stay in the program for a minimum of 5 years with the purpose of acquiring both languages at academic levels.
Learning and/or preserving our language not only identifies us as ethnic Albanians but it serves as an investment for our nation. In the past, Albanian mothers refused to say a word in English with the purpose of “forcing” their own children to communicate only in Albanian, thus preserving mother tongue. But today, we have the opportunity to make it happen at no cost and more so, learn standard Albanian which is the official language of Albania and Kosovo as well as some municipalities with ethnic Albanian populations in Montenegro and Macedonia. Learning Albanian alongside English is not only a basic right of our children but it enriches their lives and prepares them for success in today’s competitive world.
Nevertheless, to get the program started is a demanding process and it takes time. For this reason, I appeal to all parents of the Albanian community to take advantage of this opportunity and sign up their children for Dual Language schools where instruction is provided in both English and Albanian.
I would also invite my fellow Albanian teachers and administrators in NY to support in making parents aware of the benefits of enrolling their children in Dual Language programs. Additionally, I would encourage certified Albanian teachers who are fluent in Albanian to take Bilingual Extension courses (12-15 additional credits) and become eligible to teach in these programs. Many colleges and universities in NY offer such courses online. Additional information on these courses is found on our Facebook page, Dual Language Immersion/Programi Paralel Dy-Gjuhësor: English/Albanian,
To be qualified to teach in a Dual Language Program in NYC Public schools, one must have the following::
* Proper documentation to work in the United States
* New York State Teaching Certification
* Bilingual Extension Teaching Certification
* Fluency in both Albanian and English
Let’s continue to preserve our beautiful language and culture. Let’s remember that in addition to showing patriotism, new generations will benefit from bilingualism and biculturalism in the personal aspect as they become citizens who can fully participate in the local and global communities.
Dual Language Program, for the first time, gives Albanians an institutionalized school with the NYC Department of Education.