By: Caitlin Peng, Policy Fellow
On June 7, I had the opportunity to tour DC Bilingual (DCB) Public Charter School as a part of First Fridays, a series of monthly tours that spotlights top-performing D.C public charter schools. Not only was this my first time participating in a First Fridays tour, but also my first time stepping foot into a public charter school. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but by the end of the tour, I experienced a snapshot of a public charter school where a strong sense of community permeated throughout the hallways and classrooms.
As I came to learn, DC Bilingual is a dual immersion school that follows a 50/50 language model, meaning that students spend half the day with instruction in Spanish and the other half of the day in English. To give a broader context, out of over 200 public and public charter schools in the District, there are 24 dual immersion schools and programs in the 2018-19 school year, and by the 2019-20 school year, there will be 25. Dual immersion schools and programs are becoming increasingly popular as they can help foster cultural competency and allow English Language Learners to maintain growth in their home language while learning English, thus exemplifying one way to shift from a deficit- to assets-based learning model in schools. As we passed through the hallways, Principal Alina Thouyaret pointed out the colorful vejigante masks, or traditional Puerto Rican masks, adorned across the walls as she discussed how DCB is able to truly immerse its students by sending their fifth-graders to Puerto Rico for a week-long expedition each year! For students who are unable to make the trip to Puerto Rico, DCB still provides them an opportunity to go on a local expedition within the DMV-area.
In addition to DCB’s emphasis on a balanced approach to language learning, the school also highlighted its focus on fresh, healthy food and how food intersects with culture and family engagement. The cafeteria, or bistro, is run by Lola Bloom, the Director of Food and Wellness, and she gave us a tour of the cafeteria, kitchen, and school garden. The school garden included not only various types of vegetables and fruits, but also a bat house and butterfly garden! Many school gardens are supported through the Office of the State Superintendent’s (OSSE) School Garden Program, which currently funds over 100 school garden programs in the District. DCB’s emphasis on understanding where food comes from also follows into the classroom, as right before our visit to the bistro, two students gave us a presentation on the school’s newly installed beehive!
Also, luckily for all of us on the tour, we were able to see the set-up for the school’s monthly family food market, which is made possible through DCB’s partnership with the Capital Area Food Bank. These food markets allow the school to provide parents with a wide variety of grocery options each month. On the note of family engagement, we learned of the different ways DC Bilingual reaches out to families in addition to the food markets. As Principal Thouyaret explained to my group, every morning, as parents and guardians drop off their children, the staff sets up coffee stations inside the school for parents. This routine has become a crowd favorite, as parents have expressed how much they have come to rely on this simple, yet thoughtful gesture.
During the tour, Principal Thouyaret also reflected on earlier attempts at family engagement such as PTA meetings and parent-teacher conferences, which did not draw a particularly high turnout. Reevaluating their approach, DC Bilingual decided to partner with Flamboyan Foundation to build effective family engagement in schools. Staff members now can meet familes where they whether that means doing home visits or holding pupusa-making nights. For me, this transparency regarding some of the challenges the school has faced in the span of DCB’s 15-year history demonstrated how the staff actively reflects and thinks of ways to make the school a stronger community. I enjoyed walking through the school grounds, hearing from staff and parents, and interacting with students, and highly recommend anyone to check out the awesome work that DC Bilingual is doing.