High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies

Phone: (212) 475-4097
Website: Click here
Admissions: Lower East Side priority
new immigrants
Principal: LI YAN
Neighborhood: Lower East Side/ Chinatown
District: 2
Grade range: 09 thru 12
Parent coordinator: HELEN CHENG

What's special:

City's first dual language high school; safe school, and self-disciplined students.

The downside:

Students need more opportunities to interact with classmates who don’t share a native language; space constraints in shared building

The InsideStats



Our review

The High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies opened in September 2003 with the idea that monolingual students who are taught in two languages — in this case, English and Mandarin Chinese— can become proficient in both. Students regard the school as small and safe, but also find it academically demanding, as they are expected to learn a second language within four years.

Building and location: Built in 1929, the large gray building once housed Seward Park High School, a now-closed neighborhood school that educated generations of Lower East Side residents. Remnants of a past era can be seen in the details of the wooden doors, some still bearing glass panes and the original stenciled words designating the purpose of the room.

The High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies moved into the building in 2004, and occupies the fifth floor, which is painted in energizing blocks of yellow and blue. Plenty of writing by students in both English and Chinese is displayed on walls. One bulletin board featured booklets decorated with illustrations featuring Chinese students' personal reflections. One girl wrote, in English, "My mom says my eyes are like stars in the sky. My eyes are my very helpful assistants, they help me to see the beautiful world. Everyone says my eyes are always looking around like the person who has lost one's way."

Because Dual Language shares the building with four other small high schools, storage space is limited, and boxes of materials spill out of the small main office and into hallways. There are no metal detectors guarding entrances, as is common in large city school buildings, and hallways on the fifth floor are often very quiet. Facilities, such as the cafeteria, swimming pool, and two gyms, are also used by New Design High School, Essex Street Academy, Lower Manhattan Arts Academy, and Urban Assembly Academy of Government and Law. Students from all five schools can join PSAL sports teams.

School environment and culture: Students say Dual Language is a very safe school. We saw pockets of teens working quietly or hanging out in empty classrooms and the cafeteria during their free periods. These self-initiated, unsupervised "study groups" are a cultural product of China —the birthplace of more than half the student body— and a result of the faculty's attitude toward young people. "In starting a new school, you really have to trust the kids. With a small staff, we can't follow them everywhere. They have to learn to be responsible," said Principal Li Yan, a longtime educator of English language learners.

The school's small size also gives teachers the chance to communicate with each other about individual students; one teacher said he likes that he gets to know his students very well. We saw teachers, roughly half of whom speak fluent Mandarin, chatting with each other in the hallways during their free periods. The staff leads an "Explore NYC" program for new immigrants, and take students outside of school time to famous city sites, such as the Empire State building or the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Every year, the school moves closer to reaching the ideal ratio of a 50/50 split between native English speakers and native Chinese speakers in its freshman class. In September 2009, Yan estimates that 45 percent of 9th-graders were native English speakers. But because of the academic programming, the two groups don't seem to mingle much until the 11th grade, when they begin to take classes together. During one lunch period, we noticed that most under-classmen tended to stay with their native language peers, and one 10th-grader said students need to make more of an effort to reach out to classmates who don't share the same first language.

The current student body breaks down into three main groups: new immigrants from China, native English-speakers from non-Asian families, and English-speaking Asian-American students who are not literate in Chinese. In addition, the school increasingly attracts graduates of the Shuang Wen School, a challenging K-8 English-Chinese dual language school. Each group presents a different set of skills and challenges; Yan says he programs every student's course schedule himself, and that the curriculum continues to evolve to meet changing student needs.

Teaching and curriculum: The school day is long, with some students beginning their first class at 7:15 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m. Ninth and 10th grades are what Yan calls "foundation years," designed to help students build proficiency in their second language to allow all students to take classes together in 11th and 12th grade. Native English-speakers take a double period of Chinese everyday, and all other subjects are taught in English. In their second year, they are able to write short, one-page compositions in Chinese.

Native Chinese-speakers may take up to three periods of English a day. For other subjects, the school follows a transitional bilingual model designed so that immigrant students can catch up quickly on English-language skills; teachers may communicate in Chinese initially, but gradually move to instruction entirely in English. They also take a Native Language Arts class, a Chinese class that is aligned to the native English or history program.

Most teachers tried to engage their students in discussions but not all were successful. Immigrant students seemed more comfortable with lecture-style instruction, and more reticent about volunteering their opinion in class. On the other hand, students in mixed upper-level classes were much more at ease, participating in discussions and working with one other. In an upper-level English class, students paired up to edit each other's college essays in the computer lab.

All students are required to pass the Chinese Regents, in addition to the five other exams needed for a Regents diploma. The school graduated its third class in June 2009; many of the students who began high school with little knowledge of English gained advanced Regents diplomas. Advanced Placement (AP) Chinese is currently offered for seniors; more AP courses will be offered in September 2009.

Partnerships and programs: NYU undergraduate students provide one-on-one tutoring, while doctoral students in education shadow kids with learning difficulties to develop an intervention plan to help these at-risk students. Some students take classes at NYU, Hunter College, and the Borough of Manhattan Community College. The Chinese American Planning Council (CPC) offers work opportunities and an after school program. CPC also recruits Stuyvesant High School students to volunteer as tutors for Dual Language students.

Family participation: ESL classes are offered to parents. According to Yan, parents are welcome to visit the school anytime they want.

After school: CPC offers a range of extracurricular activities, as well as a program for struggling 9th-graders. A daily program lasts until 6:30 p.m. every day.

Special education: Only SETSS services are offered.

English Language Learners: More than half the students officially qualify for services, and receive them in the form of self-contained ESL classes. More students still need extra language support after they test out of ELL status, according to Yan, who continues to offer those students ESL classes if they need it.

Admissions: Screened. Call the school for a tour.

After graduation: Top graduates have gone onto MIT, NYU, and won scholarships for Georgetown and Cornell Universities. Many go on to CUNY colleges. (Catherine Man, May 2009)

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