NEW BEDFORD - Students at New Bedford's Alfred J. Gomes Elementary School may have the opportunity to become proficient in English and Spanish, regardless of their native language.

At Monday night's School Committee meeting, Superintendent Dr. Pia Durkin laid out plans for a Dual Immersion Program at the school, which would present literacy lessons in both English and Spanish. Dr. Durkin says the program, which is used in many districts statewide, has a high rate of success with English Language Learners.

"There are high levels of proficiency in their first language and English," said Durkin. "And longterm we see fewer dropouts and more excitement about developing careers and college-bound aspirations because English and Spanish is learned together."

The program proposal is a direct result of statewide legislation passed in November that allows schools to tailor bilingual lesson plans for Massachusetts ELL students.

Dr. Durkin says if a student shows proficiency in their second language, they will receive a "Seal of Biliteracy."

"You can imagine, with the students now having that on their transcripts, how doors would open for them for colleges, jobs, military, technological advances, all those kinds of things to know that these students are truly bilingual."

Parents would have the opportunity to opt their child to be enrolled in the program.

Under the proposal, a Dual Language Program Committee would be established, comprised of parents, teachers, and at least one School Committee member. The committee would undergo professional development in February of 2018 in order to implement the program beginning at the kindergarten level for its first year in operation at the Gomes School in September of 2018. The program would expand by one grade level for each year of its duration.

Dr. Durkin says the program would not require additional funding, and existing ELL programs would remain in place.

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