New York, NY—Council Member Ben Kallos led a ribbon cutting to announce the availability of 40 Pre-K Seats for a French dual language program that will serve members of the Francophone community on the East Side.

According to Council Member Kallos, the New York City Department of Education will operate the classes using a side-by-side instructional model where it will have one Early Childhood-certified teacher who is fluent in French and who has or will work towards a bilingual extension, alongside a second Early Childhood-certified teacher.

Classes started at the Pre-K Center at 355 East 76th Street on September 21.

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Kallos was joined at the ribbon cutting by parents, teachers, school administrators and the French Consulate General to New York, each of whom had an opportunity to say a few words during the press conference about how grateful they are that the DOE recognized the need and agreed to make the seats available.

The ribbon cutting preceded a multi-year effort of activism by numerous parents in the neighborhood, which Kallos recounted in his opening remarks. He talked particularly about one parent, Stephane Lautner, who first reached out to the president of the Community Education Council District 2, Maud Maron, to discuss the possibility of making seats available for a French dual language program.

“To put this in perspective, I got outreach last year, and I was asked if I would sit down and have a meeting with Stephane, Maud, and [Donalda] Chumney, [Superintendent NYC Department of Education], and Stephane asked if he could bring some other parents and I said sure, and then I think 48 hours before we were supposed to meet on December 13 he said he can bring a little bit more than a few parents and then the Stanley Issacs Neighborhood Center agreed to host us and I think no less than 100 people came out in the rain with their children, and I got to see first-hand just how big the demand was,” said Kallos.

In an interview after the ribbon cutting, Kallos said that it is common that constituents in his district contact his office to raise the idea of pursing collective action to address a particular neighborhood issue. But it takes a lot of work.

“What was different here and why it succeeded is we had a parent who was motivated and got the support of the Community Education Council,” Kallos said.

He added that on his website he has all sorts of petitions, some of them with thousands of signatures, some only five or six.

“When we launched the petition [for the French dual language classes] we had 200 parents who said that they were able and willing to send their children to this program, and when we brought that to DOE, we had irrefutable evidence that showed that we had a need.”

Lautner, the parent who spearheaded the campaign, said that while the creation of the pre-K seats is a fantastic opportunity for the Francophone community, the goal is to expand the program beyond pre-K and to include additional bilingual programs.

“For us, really, this represents the first step because we have a pre-K only, and we’re really looking forward to working with our partners in DOE and City Council to create the pathway forward for all these children for next year and for the following years into a K-5 or K-8 program to support bilingual education, not just French, but all the bilingual education programs that we have in this city,” said Lautner.

Nadia Levy, another parent who campaigned for the pre-K seats, seconded Lautner’s sentiment about expanding the program beyond Pre-K.

“This is a stepping stone because obviously we do want to make the continuation but also a stepping stone for bilingualism and bilingual education as a whole,” said Levy.

And Maud Maron of CEC District 2 also highlighted the need to continue the program to at least K-5 so that the schoolchildren who are currently enrolled in the pre-K have another program to attend when they complete the pre-K.

“K-5, we just got started here, but it’s really not too early to talk about continuing this program, and we have a meeting set up with district planning to talk about how to take this cohort of kids and make sure that their dual language education continues. It’s not too early to begin that work, we’ve begun it already, and we’re looking forward to finding a home for this program as we go forward,” said Maron.

Furthermore, Jérémie Robert, Consul General of France in New York, said that learning two languages will provide unique opportunities and prospects later in life for the schoolchildren.

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