Despite being built by immigrants, the United States has a long and complicated relationship with languages other than English (and sometimes with English, too). Modern education, however, has always placed value on studying the world’s languages. Just ask any high school freshman trying to make the grade in a Spanish I class.
Currently, more and more private and charter schools are offering dual lingual education as early as preschool. These are not simply classes taught once a day. Instead, some schools offer a full immersion curriculum that, in many cases, mirrors the immigrant experience of speaking one language at home and another at school. Others offer a fifty-fifty split between English and a second language. During a presentation in January on reading in a bilingual environment, Christophe Bonnet, head of school at the French American School of Rhode Island (FASRI), spoke about the benefits of “re-wiring” a child’s brain prior to first grade so that a second language becomes intuitive and he or she doesn’t recognize any transition. “We teach the skills, not in isolation, but in project-based learning,” Bonnet says. In preschool and kindergarten, this cross-lingual skill transfer takes place before students even learn to read.
A rendering by Torrado Architects of a plan to renovate a seed barn on The Compass School’s campus into a middle school learning space. [COURTESY OF THE COMPASS SCHOOL]
Too often, tensions over school funding drive district and charter schools apart. Assertions that “Choice costs too much” (Commentary, Jan. 11, by Chariho Superintendent Barry Ricci) question the value of charter schools without honoring their many contributions to Rhode Island public education.
By design, charters were established to “provide high-performing educational opportunities to public school students and develop innovative educational practices that can be shared with other public schools.” It is my pleasure to set the financial tug of war aside to tell the story of one Rhode Island charter’s journey to deliver on this goal.
In a Jan. 14 Commentary piece (“Dismal outlook for R.I. Latinos demands action”) Central Falls Superintendent Victor Capellan shared his thinking on the Annie E. Casey report ranking Rhode Island last in the nation for opportunities for success for Latino children.
Rhode Island is already home to a national model of what success in this realm looks like. The Learning Community, one of the highest poverty, highest performing K-8 urban schools in Rhode Island, has effectively closed the Latino achievement gap.
On the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) English Language Arts assessment, Learning Community’s Latino students outperformed the state’s white students by 7 percentage points and reached proficiency at two-and-a-half times the rate of their Latino peers statewide. The Learning Community also closed the gap between students of color and white students, with our students of color outperforming the state’s white students by 6 percentage points.
“Our charter schools provide tremendous learning experiences and opportunities for Rhode Island students and families. I am very excited to take on this opportunity to advance the purpose of charter schools in Rhode Island,” said Oliveira.
Oliveira will take over the position effective June 19.
Our 18 schools serve the public, are open to the public, funded by the public and held accountable to the public. We enroll students through a fair and transparent lottery system, which is open to all students, including many from low income, diverse communities. We are free to be innovative and are held accountable for improved student achievement. We have flexibility around how we spend our resources and run our programs, helping us explore best practices and share them with both charter and traditional public schools.
Whether we’re working with traditional public school leaders or a team of teachers is working collaboratively within their own department, we are always seeking new ways to improve student achievement. We work closely with families and community partners, providing invaluable educational experiences for students that don’t end once students leave their classrooms.
We teach differently because we know that students learn differently. We find innovative approaches to each lesson and we don’t stop until we know what works. We are striving every day to close the achievement gap in our public schools and have shown strong results on state testing and other measures of success.