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Bedford School Officials Answer Dual-Language Concerns

Mount Kisco Elementary School
Mount Kisco Elementary School Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie

BEDFORD, N.Y. -- Bedford Central administrators offered an overview of the dual-language program at Mount Kisco Elementary School (MKES) at a recent meeting and responded to concerns from members of the community.

The current iteration, which began this year, allots learning time in both English and Spanish for native-speaking children of each language and began with the current kindergarten cohort.

Drew Patrick, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, explained that instruction in more than one language is mandated by the state. The threshold is when there are at least 20 non-English-speaking children per grade in a single building. Next year, however, the that minimum will be per grade and per school district. However, Patrick clarified to Daily Voice after the meeting that the program will not be expanded to Bedford Central's other four elementary schools.

MKES, which has a sizable Spanish-speaking student population, is subject to the existing threshold. However, the specific design of a bilingual program is still at the district's discretion, with the minimum requirement only being a set period of teaching in another language per week for non-English speakers.

Intended benefits, Patrick said, include closing the achievement gap, along with promoting bilteracy and biculturalism.

Administrators addressed a concern floating in the community about whether the program was an opt-out line. It was noted that forms were given to parents last year to survey whether they would want their children enrolled.

Patrick touched upon a high rate of participation in the program, which left cases where English-only students were left with large numbers of classmates traveling back and forth, as a possible reason for why it felt like there was an opt-out model.

Next year, the intent is to have a designated English-only class. However, Patrick warned that enrollment for the dual-language program may need to be capped if there aren't enough English-only students.

Superintendent Jere Hochman addressed a perception that special-education funding was being diverted to support bilingual instruction, which he denied. He suspected that confusion has arisen due to restructuring service that goes beyond what special education is supposed to provide.

Hochman noted, citing a finding from the district's Budget Advisory Committee, that the program was found to be more efficient because it does not require pulling children out and send them to a third teacher to learn another language.

The program was the product of research by a committee of parents and teachers who met during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years, Hochman said. Additionally, information sessions were held for parents and questions have been collected, he explained, adding that there will be more.

Community members offered various positions.

“It’s been a wonderful experience for my daughter,” said Doug Weitz, an MKES dad.

Danielle Dachik, who called the program “absolutely phenomenal for many, many children,” pushed for allowing parents to choose whether their kids should participate in it.

William O'Reilly, an MKES dad who praised the school's staff, argued it is against the interest of the school's Hispanic children.

“Wouldn’t the right approach be to hasten assimilation as quickly as possible? This is only delaying it.”

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