First Steps to a Polish Language Program in Ridgewood

The principal of P.S. 71, Indiana Soto (first from right), informed the interested parents about the requirements involved in launching the Polish Dual Language Program. From left: Andrzej Cierkosz, president of the Dobra Polska Szkola Foundation, and teachers Barbara Falkowska and Michelle Rafalko. (Photo by Wojtek Maslanka via Nowy Dziennik)

A meeting devoted to launching a Polish-English Dual Language Program at P.S. 71 in Ridgewood attracted close to 30 parents. Their children may soon be able to take advantage of dual language education as P.S. 71 prepares to be the second New York City public school with instruction in Polish and English. Over three years ago, Greenpoint’s P.S. 34 pioneered in this field by launching the city’s very first Polish Dual Language Program, which has been a great success with more than 70 children enrolled now.

“We Poles should continue our language tradition. I am very happy to see such great interest in the Polish Dual Language Program at our school,” said Barbara Falkowska, a teacher at P.S. 71. “I am glad to see that parents want their children to participate in the dual language program and I am grateful to the Dobra Polska Szkoła Foundation [Good Polish School Foundation] for initiating the discussion on launching the program in our school. The principal has been very supportive of the Polish-American community and I truly hope that we will be able to successfully launch the Polish Dual Language Program here,” the teacher added.

The principal of P.S. 71, Indiana Soto, was also happy to see the number of parents attending the Jan. 25 meeting on the program. She talked about the school as well as the requirements for the dual language program.

P.S. 71 currently has 700 students from pre-K through 5th grade. It is the only school in the area belonging to the Title 1 program and, as such, receives federal grants. Each student who lags behind can count on the teachers’ help. Apart from the core curriculum classes, including English, math, science and STEM/robotics the school also offers a sports program, arts and music, where children learn how to play various instruments, as well as dance classes.

“We also offer an after-school program for children from kindergarten through 5th grade. That’s when students can do their homework, play soccer and volleyball or take a dance or cheerleading class. In the latter our students have achieved many successes on the national level,” said principal Soto.

The list of various programs P.S. 71 offers may get longer soon if the new Polish Dual Language Program is implemented and available for students from Polish and non-Polish families. Like other dual language programs, this one will allow students not only to learn languages but, first and foremost, to learn the core curriculum in two languages: Polish and English.

In order for the program to be implemented the school must meet certain conditions. First of all, it needs to obtain approval from the New York City Department of Education. It also needs to have teachers with a dual language certificate. In the case of P.S. 71, there need to be at least 13 students from the local district interested for the school to be able to launch the program. However, judging from the number of parents who attended the initial meeting, the latter condition won’t be a problem to meet.

Participants of the meeting with the P.S. 71 principal and teachers. (Photo by Wojtek Maslanka via Nowy Dziennik)

The parents present at the meeting are hoping that their children will be able to begin dual language education this fall. “I can’t promise anything, but I think we can meet this deadline,” said the P.S. 71 principal.

The parents can’t wait for the program to launch. “In my opinion the dual language program is a great idea. I want my child to speak both languages well. I have invested a lot in my son’s knowledge of Polish. He went to a Polish language day care and I wouldn’t want him to lose the ability to speak the language now that he is in pre-K, “ said Kinga Domitrz.

“This program is a great idea, especially in this neighborhood. Ridgewood, Maspeth, Glendale and Middle Village are where there are a lot of Polish-American families interested in dual language education for their children,” said Justyna Szulc. “The Polish Dual Language Program will give our children a chance to develop their identity, mind and both languages. That will open the doors to more opportunities in the future. That’s why I want it launched in our school,” said Ewa, another meeting participant.

Also very pleased with the prospects of launching the Polish Dual Language Program in Ridgewood is Andrzej Cierkosz, president of the Dobra Polska Szola Foundation, who initiated the meeting at P.S. 71. “I am happy that we were able to take the first formal step on the way to creating the Polish Dual Language Program at P.S. 71. Our foundation has long recognized the need for the program at public schools. That’s why, a couple of years ago, we launched an informational campaign on our website and since then have organized meetings with parents and school officials instrumental in creating the first Polish Dual Language Program at P.S. 34 in Greenpoint,” said Cierkosz, who points out that this program comes at no extra cost to parents.

“Dual language programs have long been available in other U.S. cities. Dual language education has also been a subject in a number of studies which clearly and undeniably show that children in dual language programs get better school results than their peers from monolingual classes,” said the president of the DPS Foundation, pointing also to the fact that there is a need among the Polish-American community in New York for more than one Polish Dual Language Program.

“That’s why we decided to attempt to introduce the program at P.S. 71. The school’s principal understands well all the benefits of the program and was eager to meet with interested parents,” said Cierkosz, encouraging parents in other school districts to get in touch with him if they need guidance or assistance in organizing similar meetings with other principals.

“If there is a real chance of creating such a program in a given school, the Dobra Polska Szkola Foundation will be glad to provide information and support,” the foundation’s president added.

Currently the Dobra Polska Szkola Foundation is working on a documentary about P.S. 34 – the first New York City public school to launch the Polish Dual Language Program. The documentary will show how students and families benefit from the program, and include interviews from educators and experts on dual language education.

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