By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Hudson – Thirty Hudson Public School teachers and staff sat confused in a room last summer while a woman lectured them in Mandarin. They didn’t understand a word – and that was the point.
The group represented individuals from throughout the district. And that exercise of intentional confusion marked a first step for all of them in creating a Portuguese dual-language immersion program that district leaders say they’re excited to launch this fall.
It was a lesson in what not to do.
“We needed people to immerse in what all this really means,” Superintendent Marco Rodrigues explained.
Teachers, administrators and politicians alike have, for years, agonized over a gap in performance between English language learning students and their English-speaking classmates. They have similarly heard warnings from industry leaders that biliteracy is increasingly necessary for graduates trying to build careers.
This dual language program, Rodrigues said, is a way to tackle both those issues.
“There’s a lot of buzz about it,” he noted said of the mood both within district offices and among parents.
The initiative will convert two of the four kindergarten classrooms at the Camela A. Farley Elementary School into lingually integrated spaces.
There, 40 students will spend half their time learning in English before spending the rest of their time interacting in Portuguese. The program will mix English speaking students with English language learners and will follow them through 12th grade.
This, Rodrigues said, is only possible thanks to Hudson’s proud Portuguese heritage.
“You don’t create dual-language [programs] for the sake of it,” he said. “You have to mirror the composition of the community. Hudson is a very strong Portuguese community…so our program is stronger when we build around that.”
As that helps energize the program, the selection of Portuguese as the language paired with English has presented problems.
While initiatives like this have spread across the country in recent years, most have focused on Spanish, leaving a lack of immersion curriculum for Portuguese programs.
“Those are the things that require legwork to be done,” Rodrigues said. “We continue to look into different ways to capture different materials and books to make sure that kindergarten is ready.”
He added that the program will benefit students by closing performance gaps, immersing students in English while still giving intermittent opportunities for them to communicate in their native language.
As the district prepares the program, Rodrigues said they are keeping in mind the community they serve and firsthand lessons like the metaphysical one they learned in that Mandarin class that left them baffled.
“There is a need,” Rodrigues said. “We’re addressing that.”