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New Broward Charter Programs Offer Classes in French, Spanish or Hebrew

November 27, 2006

By Akilah Johnson, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Nov. 27–Ӛ¿Entiendes?

Vous comprenez?

Understand? If not, your children might if you enroll them in one of three planned bilingual charter schools scheduled to open next year in Broward County.

From the first school bell to the last, students will be immersed in a symphony of nasal vowels and rolled Rs as they learn their ABC’s, 123′s and an occasional nursery rhyme.

Part of the day, students learn in English, the other part in Spanish, French or Hebrew, depending on the school. For example, instead of having French classes, children will have classes in French. The specific locations for the schools have not been set, but as of now the Hebrew school is intended to be in northwest Broward and the French school in the southwest part of the county.

People can learn to speak a second language at any age, but experts say children steeped in a language at an early age become bilingual, if not multilingual, more easily.

“If they start when they’re little, hopefully they will be literate and not just speak it, but read it and write it,” said Alicia Rodriguez Bower, with the management group for the Jose Marti Language Academy.

Charter schools are educational hybrids, privately run public schools allowed to function with independent governing boards. These taxpayer-funded campuses have more freedom over curriculum than a traditional public school but must adhere to state academic standards.

The planned bilingual charter schools are:

The Ben Gamla Charter School will teach Hebrew and Israeli culture to about 600 kindergarten through eighth-grade students.

Language and cultural lessons will be weaved into the school’s curriculum, mainly social studies class.

The International School of Broward will be a two-way French immersion program for 225 sixth- to ninth-grade students. Half of the classes will be taught in English, the other half in French. Of the three schools, it is the only true immersion program.

The Jose Marti Language Academy plans to have Spanish class every day for 450 kindergarten to eighth-grade students. The school day will be extended, so teachers can spend time during such classes as math or science teaching in Spanish.

“Children need to be bilingual,” said Ruth Jacoby, a member of the Ben Gamla’s governing board. “It’s a great skill to have in today’s shrinking world.”

The Ben Gamla Charter School, The International School of Broward, and the Jose Marti Language Academy, represent South Florida’s diversity. As the gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean, South Florida is a smorgasbord of tongues.

In 2005, more than 2.3 million South Floridians spoke a language other than English at home, including Hebrew, Spanish and French, according to the U.S. Census.

“Certainly Spanish is extremely important,” said Michael Horswell, head of Florida Atlantic University’s Spanish program. “And, because of the demographics, there probably are a lot of families here with ties to Israel.”

Jacqueline Hoy will be executive director of the International School of Broward. Hoy, who is principal of Cooper City’s French-immersion school, Lycee Franco-American International, said many of her students come from France, Canada, Haiti and West Africa.

She decided to open the charter school because there is no high school for her current students to continue their bilingual education.

The goal, she said, is to provide a free, French-language education for students who cannot afford to pay.

Charter schools are tuition-free schools that must be approved by and have a contract with the school district.

Because charter schools have contracts with the county school system, the School Board must approve each one. These three received initial approval Nov. 14 and should get final approval in May.

“Most of our students don’t stay here because our tuition is very high,” Hoy said of the K- to eighth-grade private school. “Since they’re going to college in seven or five years, their parents have to save money for them.”

The International School of Broward, starting with sixth to ninth grades, will add a grade each year until it is a sixth- to 12th-grade school.

Horswell, of FAU’s Spanish program, said language-immersion or bilingual programs are becoming more common.

There are several Greek-language charter schools in the Tampa area. Minnesota has Hmong and German-language charter schools. And New Orleans has a French/Spanish school that works to make its students trilingual.

“This is starting to happen more and more,” Horswell said. “The younger you start a student off, the better.”

The hope, school officials said, is that when students graduate they truly will be bilingual.

“It’s going to make our job easier when they get to college,” Horswell said.

Akilah Johnson can be reached at akjohnson@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4527.

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Copyright (c) 2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

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