Bilingual Revolution in Manhattan

Parents in Manhattan won an important victory and were able to convince schools authorities about creating a French dual-language program in a public school in the Upper East Side. Their journey, which started two years ago, has culminated in a series of recent meetings with elected officials, school leaders, and community leaders. Hailing from a number of countries, some parents want access to English or French and the equal opportunity they provide. Others want to sustain their heritage, and utilize bilingual education as a tool to do so. Others are interested in the benefits of bilingualism for cognitive development. Others are interested in the acquisition of a second, third, or fourth language because of the professional opportunities and advantages it will yield. Ultimately, these perspectives share the same goal: to create a multilingual society with greater access to languages and cultures.

On March 3, a group of parents led by Stéphane Lautner and Catherine Remy met at the Stanley Isaacs Community Center with Deputy Chancellor of Early Childhood Education, Josh Wallack, New York City Councilman Benjamin Kallos, Community Education Committee 2 President Maud Maron, District 2 Superintendent Donalda Chumney, and myself to discuss the challenges and advantages of developing dual-language programs in New York City. The meeting focused in particular on the need of creating French dual-language programs in Manhattan (which has the largest concentration of French-speakers in the city and in the United States); the search for certified bilingual teachers; the identification of paths to follow to implement a program from pre-Kindergarten to grade 5; and the development of dual-language programs in as many languages and as many schools as possible.

Data on French speakers was collected from various sources that included the American Community Survey, The Consulate General of France’s registry, and the Department of Education’s Home Language survey. Here is a report from the Embassy of France.

Parents of students from various ethnolinguistic backgrounds in the room shared their worries about the underdevelopment of bilingual programs in New York City’s public schools. They advocated for the development of these programs to cover a growing demand in New York City neighborhoods. Indeed, the massive presence of parents at this meeting proved that bilingual education has a significant place in New York City’s educational programs. In addition, the parents insisted on the benefits and importance for their children to receive a bilingual education that offers greater chances of success in an interconnected, competitive and constantly changing world. 

A first meeting was organized on December 13 and confirmed an increasing demand from parents and from the French-speaking community at large, with thousands of people liking and sharing information on social media and via newsletters, and over 100 parents showing up on a rainy Friday night!

A second meeting, organized by Community Education Committee 2 and its president, Maud Maron, on February 13, led to a resolution In support of a French Dual Language Program at the 76th Street Pre-K Center.

A third meeting with New York City authorities provided a more informed view of the state of bilingual programs, furthered discussions on their development, identified issues that still need to be addressed and all the parent associations that have a bilingual program project in each district. Here are some of the pictures take during the March 3 meeting.

A fourth meeting was organized on March 6 at Councilman Ben Kallos’s office with French Consul Anne-Claire Legendre, parent organizers Stephane Lautner and Catherine Remy, and I. Meeting after meeting, we are getting closer to creating a French dual-language program in New York City’s Upper East Side.

Here are some of the things this group put together to get the word out and support this initiative:

And here are the announcements and news clips that confirmed the program