Early Years

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The early years offer the best opportunity to learn a second language, studies have shown. Chicago school officials are putting that finding into practice with a new dual-language program for 3- and 4-year-olds in 13 schools.

Under this model, which began last month, preschoolers whose first language is Spanish will learn in the same classroom with those who are bilingual or speak English. The children will be taught both languages by being "immersed" in English for half the day and in Spanish the other half.

The new program, which will be extended through the 3rd grade over the next five years, is being implemented in schools that have a significant Hispanic population. Hispanic students make up 31 percent of the district's enrollment.

The program will also emphasize family involvement and education to make sure parents understand why it's important for their children to learn two languages.

Students in the program will be monitored over the next several years to determine the success of the dual-language project.

Currently, 16 elementary schools and one high school in Chicago offer dual-language programs. Only one, the Inter-American Magnet, starts the program in preschool.

More than 8,000 Massachusetts children younger than 4 will benefit from the expansion of two early-childhood programs in the state.

One of them, Community Partnerships for Children, has received a $28 million grant from the state, which will be awarded to 122 local programs.

Community Partnerships for Children, which began in 1993, supports local agencies that are providing education to the 3- and 4-year-olds of working parents. With this grant, an additional 5,200 youngsters will be served, bringing the total to 15,000 children.

Another project, the Massachusetts Family Network--which provides health screenings, home visits, family-literacy activities, and other services to parents with children age 3 and younger--has received an extra $749,000 from the state that will enable it to reach 3,000 more children in five areas of the state.

The network began in 1995 as a pilot program in 10 sites; it now serves 16,000 children in 118 cities and towns.

Since 1993, the state budget for early-learning programs has increased from $12.9 million to $60 million.

The Massachusetts state school board is asking lawmakers for an additional $170 million in the fiscal 1999 budget.

--LINDA JACOBSON [email protected]

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