HOBOKEN, NJ - Nina Thurau was in her kitchen recently, pointing out many of the items she encountered, like her “mesa”(table) and “sillas” (chairs) and also all of her “maquinas” (appliances). It is her favorite room in the house, she said, because “me encanta cocinar y me encanta comer.” (She loves to cook and eat).
Her audience? The Kindergarten students at HoLa, the Hoboken Dual Language Charter School, who all watched intently from their homes via Zoom. While the school has been closed since March 16, that hasn’t stopped its 400 students from continuing to learn all of their subjects--many of which are in Spanish.
Ms. Thurau and the other teachers at HoLa have continued to teach using a combination of synchronous and asynchronous instruction. Students show their work on the screen or submit through email or google classrooms. Besides daily office hours, every week, every single student gets at least one dedicated phone call home to check in on theirs and their family’s well being.
In the days leading to the shutdown, HoLa ensured every single student had the devices and connectivity they needed to be able to continue their learning from home. HoLa’s remote offerings continue to follow the immersion model, offering live content in Spanish daily, including not only the core subjects of math and reading but also live specials, such as art, music and dance -- all in Spanish. In addition, HoLa has teamed up with the City of Hoboken to use bilingual members of the school community to reach out and call Spanish speaking seniors during the COVID crisis, to check-in on seniors who need additional help.
“This is the most challenging thing our teachers have ever had to do,” said Jennifer Sargent, Founder and Executive Director of the school. “But every day our teachers--who themselves are sometimes juggling remote learning for their own children--keep showing up for our kids so that they continue to learn in both Spanish and English. We couldn’t be prouder of our entire community.”
It is that passion and innovation that led the New Jersey Department of Education to renew the school’s designation last week as a Model Dual Language Program for another two years.
It is the 4th consecutive award of the 2-year designation for HoLa. HoLa was the only charter school in New Jersey to receive the designation.
The application process was completed before the shutdown, and included a rigorous site visit and interviews with teachers, students and families.
“As a long-standing model program district, your program will continue to serve as a resource for other districts in our state and enable educators to witness firsthand exemplary practices in Dual Language Immersion,” said Linda Eno, Assistant Commissioner of the NJ DOE, in a letter to the school. “It will also enable administrators and teachers to dialog about issues of mutual concern and discuss the potential for future collaboration regarding curriculum development projects, or professional development initiatives.”
“We congratulate HoLa for this well deserved recognition,” said Mayor Ravi Bhalla. “The award is a credit to the dedication displayed each and every day from the teachers and parents who work tirelessly for our children.”
HoLa’s immersion program means that students starting in Kindergarten spend almost their entire day learning in Spanish, even though the majority of the school’s students do not have any Spanish-language background. The program transitions slowly to a 50% Spanish/50% English curriculum by middle school. Students graduate 8th grade fully bilingual and biliterate.
The Hoboken Dual Language Charter School is a free, public charter school serving about 400 students in grades K-8. HoLa is the only Spanish immersion dual language public charter school in the state. It is also the first to receive NJ DOE approval to provide a low-income preference and English language learner preference in its lottery. As measured by state exams, HoLa is ranked among the top 10% of public schools in New Jersey.
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