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New London - Last week, a group of six administrators from the New London Public Schools traveled to Omaha, Neb., on a reconnaissance mission.
They traveled nearly 1,400 miles to study that district's dual-language program as a possible model for this city's eventual K-12 dual-language magnet school pathway.
The six administrators visited five schools in Omaha where students learn in both English and Spanish. At the elementary level, the school day is split between learning in English and Spanish. At the secondary level, some classes are taught in Spanish and others in English.
All testing is done in English and, according to Katy Cattlett, the program's supervisor, students in the dual- language program outperform their peers who are not in the program.
Omaha is one of just 15 public school districts nationwide to offer dual-language programs in grades K-12, according to Cattlett. Since its inception as a 60-student program in 2000, it has grown to include 2,300 students at nine schools. The program has been recognized by the Ministry of Education of Spain for providing a high-quality Spanish education.
"We spent a good amount of time observing and building an understanding of what dual language is. A lot of it was seeing what the students are capable of and seeing what dual-language classrooms look like," Cattlett said. "It was to help them understand that this is not going to change, necessarily, the level of rigor; it still looks like a high school."
New London already has a dual-language program for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade at Jennings Elementary School. But as the city transitions into an all-magnet school district, the program will be expanded through the high school level.
"I don't think any program can be a cookie-cutter, but we're not going to start from ground zero and try to reinvent the wheel," Katherine Ericson, New London's chief academic officer, said. "We'll steal the parts of the program that fit for New London and our kids."
The trip was paid for with funds the state legislature appropriated to state-appointed special master Steven J. Adamowski for support of his oversight in New London.
"Primarily, we went to be able to see firsthand how these different schools are functioning," said Maureen Ruby, New London's supervisor of professional learning and career development. "It's one thing for someone to tell you about a school, but it's another thing to walk into the school and see it actually happening."
Though the New London and Omaha school systems are similar in demographics and share similar challenges, Omaha has a school population more than 15 times that of New London.
"The obvious difference is the size of the system, but in terms of the economics and the diversity, New London and Omaha are very, very similar," Ruby said.
It was important, Ericson said, that she and the other administrators got to observe a school system that looked like an urban center and faced some of the same challenges as New London.
But New London school officials expect to face at least one challenge their counterparts in Omaha did not have to deal with at the same level: finding high-quality teachers who are certified to teach in this state.
"Their certification regulations are a little different than ours are in Connecticut, so it is a little easier for someone who is certified in a different country to get certified to teach in their state than it is here," Ruby said. "When we find high-quality people, we want to see how we can facilitate getting them certified to teach here."
Ericson said the issue of teacher certification is something New London school officials will broach with state education leaders.
Though New London is still in the early stages of developing its complete dual language pathway, Ericson said the trip to Omaha yielded a bounty of ideas, feedback and relationships that will be used as the city builds its own program.
"I think dual-language is so exciting because it's about being a global citizen and equipping our children to be ready for a world that is global," she said. "It is a very exciting prospect and we were really pleased with what we saw."