South Country School District officials on Tuesday officially celebrated the opening of the Dual Language Magnet Program at Brookhaven Elementary School. The program will give students in kindergarten through third grade a chance to learn course material in English and Spanish. Credit: Newsday / Joie Tyrrell

Elementary students in the South Country school district’s dual language program have a new magnet school to call home when classes start Wednesday.

District officials on Tuesday officially celebrated the opening of the Dual Language Magnet Program at Brookhaven Elementary School, which ultimately will give students in kindergarten through third grade across the system the opportunity to learn course material in English and Spanish.

“It opens it up to all of our students districtwide,” South Country Superintendent Joseph Giani said. "We felt this was the best way to offer the program to the entire district."

While the system has offered dual language instruction for the past four years, it was open only to the 500-plus kindergartners through third-graders who lived in the zone of Brookhaven Elementary, which is in Brookhaven hamlet. Children who attended the district’s two other elementary schools — more than 700, combined, in kindergarten through third grade — were not able to attend.

The cross-pollination enables Spanish-speaking students to learn English at the same time that English-speaking students learn Spanish. The new magnet program also will offer side-by-side instruction with two teachers, instead of one as had been done in the past at Brookhaven Elementary, school officials said.

Anastasia Blanco, 7, who is starting second grade, already is enrolled in the dual language program. She said she is looking forward to the new school year because she “likes to make friends.”

Dual language programs' goal is teaching students to be bilingual and biliterate. Across the state and in New York City, a growing number of schools offer such programs as one way to educate English language learners.

Regina Hunt, vice president of the South County Board of Education, said the district's changing demographics prompted creation of the magnet school. According to the Education Department, the South Country district had 35 percent Latino enrollment in the 2016-17 school year, the most recent data available.

"For us to offer this is because of the way the demographics are changing, and we have to be able to serve the entire community," Hunt said.

Rebecca Raymond, Brookhaven Elementary's principal, is a former dual language teacher and is in her first year as principal. She said the change has allowed a doubling of capacity for kindergartners, from 21 students to 40, in two classes.

This year, the dual language magnet program's districtwide accessibility starts with the kindergartners. It will expand by one grade level with each year.

Parents opt-in to the program, which continues through fifth grade and beyond, after students move into more advanced language study.

The Herricks district, in Nassau County, launched a Spanish language immersion program in the 2010-11 school year for kindergartners and first-graders. It now has 390 students enrolled in the immersion program in kindergarten through ninth grade and will expand each year to eventually offer the program for all students, through the 12th grade.

The district did not create the program to meet a changing demographic with an increasing number of native Spanish speakers, but to make their students truly multilingual, Superintendent Fino Celano said. Many students speak Chinese, Hindi and other southeastern Asian languages at home, school officials said.

“We are teaching students sophisticated critical-thinking skills; they are learning content in two languages,” Celano said. “It is just wonderful to walk into a third- or fourth-grade classroom where these students have been studying Spanish and learning content in Spanish since kindergarten and see that they are truly so fluent.”

In the Herricks program, math and science are taught entirely in Spanish at the elementary level, as well as in social studies at the middle school. The program extends into the high school.

“They are thriving and performing at the highest level — and not only in English. And it makes our program very unique,” said Francesco L. Fratto, director of world languages, immersion and English as a New Language in Herricks.

In New York City earlier this year, the Department of Education announced the addition of dual language programs to 33 pre-K classes at schools — bringing the citywide total to 60-plus across the five boroughs this school year. Other than English, the languages taught include Spanish, Mandarin, Russian, Bengali and Italian.

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