Once criticized, ‘Spanglish’ finds a place in the classroom

NEW YORK, N.Y. – In Elizabeth Menéndez’s kindergarten classroom, red time on the schedule means teachers and students should speak Spanish; blue time is reserved for English. Then, there’s purple time, a “safe language space”, where students use whichever words they prefer in the moment.  

Nurturing bilingual students is the mission of the 400-student public school where Menéndez teaches, Dos Puentes Elementary in Washington Heights, a predominantly Latino neighborhood of New York City. By the time its students graduate to middle school, they are well on their way to mastering both written and spoken English and Spanish, said principal Victoria Hunt, who was part of the group that founded the school in 2012 after more than two decades as a dual language teacher and assistant principal

Purple time is key to reaching that goal. Although teachers in many bilingual classrooms around the country often informally allow kids to use both languages, their schools have historically pressed for a stricter separation of languages. But in the last decade, more and more researchers have advocated for what Menéndez does during purple time – what they call “translanguaging.” The model gives students a chance to use all of their language skills in the classroom and calls for embracing the value of doing so. 

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