Burlington’s first bilingual playschool starts Spanish education early
Holding up a piece of colored paper the instructor declares, “Yellow. Amarillo.” A chorus of 4 year olds sitting crosslegged in a circle around her repeat, “Yellow. Amarillo.”
This is a typical lesson at Holy Comforter Community Playschool, the first bilingual playschool in Alamance County. The playschool opened in Burlington in September, and just over a month into operation, two classes of children are learning the basic lessons of preschool in both English and Spanish.
According to Jocelyn Safirt, one of the founders of the playschool, Holy Comforter, Harvey R. Newlin Elementary and other groups in the community had been talking about establishing a new playschool in the area for years but decided to open the bilingual school to address a growing need for multicultural and bilingual education in the area.
“There are lots of cultures represented very close to us, within a couple of miles, that to enhance the children’s experience that are Spanish-speaking children to allow them to get more fluent in english and to enhance the English-speaking children to have them learn another language and one that is so prevalent in the community is an asset to children when you’re that young,” Safirt said.
Safirt said one of the goals of the playschool is to help open up communication for the whole community.
“You start with children and families because the families bring them in here they get to know each other the parents do,” she said “That’s something that’s really needed.”
Burlington and Alamance County not only have a significant Latino population, but one that has grown exponentially in recent years. According to the Pew Research center, 11 percent of Alamance County is Hispanic and that population has grown 98 percent in the past 10 years.
But besides bridging the cultural gaps in the area, the playschool also looks at bridging some educational gaps. Safirt said one thing the playschool aimed to do was give children in the area the best start to their education because many students in elementary school can fall behind early if they don’t have the same foundation and basic skill-sets as their classmates.
“You’re helping each child to grow and be more prepared for school and they walk into a situation already having learned the social skills that preschool provides so that Kindergarten isn’t the first time they’ve been away from Mom,” she said. “You learn to sit in the circle and listen to line up to all the little things to share that that’s already done. They have a knowledge of another language of you know so they get that step up and aren’t already starting with a deficit.”
Sadfirt said this early start her playschool can provide is especially important because many of the children that attend the school receive scholarships and may not have been able to attend a preschool otherwise because of financial or cultural difficulties.
Currently, Holy Comfort Community Playschool is open to one class of 2 1/2 to 3 year olds two days a week and one class of 4 year olds three days a week.
Safirt said the program seems to be successful so far and that she hopes the program can expand next year.
“The social skills already are so obviously enhanced in less than a month,” she said. “It’s been huge.”