Bilingual preschool has growing pains

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On Monday afternoon, Tania Miranda’s class of 3- and 4-year-olds sat on the rug
at her feet, as their teacher read “Honey, I Love,” a picture book of
poems, to herself in English, translated it in her mind and then read
out loud each sentence into Spanish. On Monday afternoon, Tania Miranda’s class of 4-year-olds sat on the rug at her feet, as their teacher read “Honey, I Love,” a picture book of poems, to herself in English, translated it in her mind and then read out loud each sentence into Spanish.

Miranda’s classroom at Edwards Center for Young Learners Head Start in Archer Heights was highlighted this week as part of “Illinois as Trailblazer: Bilingual and Dual-Language Media and Research Convening,” a conference sponsored by the Latino Policy Forum and the Education Writers Association.

New state rules requiring school district-run Preschool for All programs to offer bilingual education to English-language learners debuted this fall, and CPS is requiring the same in the Head Start programs it runs.

Illinois is the first state to require preschools to offer bilingual education to children who do not speak English. The challenges to doing that already are apparent.

Miranda says her school doesn’t have money to buy enough Spanish-language books for bilingual pre-kindergarten students, even though it had a bilingual program before it became a requirement.

“There is no Spanish or bilingual curriculum in place at all,” Miranda says.  “I translate everything for them. [When] there are books that can’t be translated, we try to look for ones that cover the same subject matter.”

It’s not clear where the money to implement bilingual curricula will come from. Preschoolers are counted as part of the formula that determines how much bilingual funding school districts get from the state. But the total amount of bilingual funding the state has to dole out is limited, and, last year, it was a victim of budget cuts.

Teachers also have run into problems with a requirement that they conduct a home-language survey and then, if the child’s parents speak a language other than English, screen them for language skills within 30 days.

Diana Preciado, a colleague of Miranda, says the results of the screening – called the Pre-IPT – can be unreliable. “Sometimes a child only speaks English, and it’ll tell me they are a limited English speaker,” she says.

Marta Moya-Leang, head teacher at Belmont-Cragin Early Childhood Center, has had similar experiences.

“[Results] have a lot to do with the confidence level of the child,” she says. “If the child doesn’t feel comfortable with you, he’s not going to talk.”

Since the child must be placed in a classroom before the screening takes place, Moya-Leang says, teachers rely primarily on the home-language survey and discussions with parents to figure out where a child should go.