Amistad Dual Language School
Engaged parents, small class size
Crowded building shared with another school
Amistad Dual Language School has a warm sense of community and a commitment to making children fluent speakers and readers of both Spanish and English. Children seem happy and relaxed as they work together on engaging classroom projects. The curriculum is filled with music, dance, and visual and theater arts.
Class size is capped at 25 and there are at least two adults in every classroom. All teachers are bilingual. Kindergartners are taught 3 full days in Spanish and 2 in English. By 3rd grade, students spend 2 full weeks learning in Spanish, before alternating to English for the next 2 weeks. Reading instruction follows the "whole language" approach, which encourages students to recognize whole words and focus on the meaning of what they read and write, rather than decoding letters and sounds.
The PTA organizes events such as family movie night, field day, performances, and a large carnival. During our visit a group of parents were on hand to chaperone a field trip and a grandparent taught an ESL class to other parents in the school's large parent lounge. The school shares a rather cramped building with Muscota New School.
Amistad is not without its challenges. Test scores are below average. The city's new enrollment system admits students by lottery, making it difficult for the administration to control the level of language proficiency of incoming students. As a result, the kindergarten class has recently skewed to more English-dominant speakers, while the goal is to have an even mix of English and Spanish speakers. "One of the biggest strengths of language acquisition is that kids learn from each other side-by-side, but if everyone speaking English it's difficult to learn Spanish," said Principal Zoraida Hernandez.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school has a literacy specialist, two reading teachers, and a SETSS teacher. In addition the school provides speech, occupational therapy and physical therapy with shared service providers.
ADMISSIONS: Open to all District 6 students. The goal is to have half the incoming kindergartners English dominant and half Spanish dominant. Once accepted, the administration invites children in for screening for placement in classrooms to achieve the 50-50 split. About 300 applied for 30 spots in 2015. Roughly 30-40 applied for about six 1st grade seats. (Mahalia Watson, November 2015; updated August 2016)