Polish Dual Program in Lindenhurst

Courtesy of Magdalena Sliwa

Courtesy of Magdalena Sliwa

Veronica Merchelski, Staff Writer

The dual program, introduced into the Lindenhurst school district in 2019, was established with the intent of teaching young children in the elementary levels two languages at the same time. There are two different languages you can take so far, the Spanish program and the Polish program. The Spanish program has been running consecutively for two years making the oldest students in first grade. However the Polish program was unfortunately discontinued after only one year, making the current oldest students in kindergarten. After this discontinuation, the Polish community and the Lindenhurst district have been working hard to do everything they can in order to ensure that the program can continue for years to come.

Ms. Jill Schilling, the District Coordinator of World Languages and ENL/Bilingual Education, gives an insight on the Polish dual program. “We have half the day where she [the teacher] teaches English, all the subjects, and the other half the day she teaches Polish language arts, she teaches Polish math and she teaches social studies and science.” The students that make up the class are those who have been identified as ENL students (students whose first language is not English) who speak Polish. By NY State law, if a district consists of more than 20 ENL students, who speak the same language and are in the same grade, then the district must provide a dual language class. However one issue that Lindenhurst district is having is the fact that there are not enough Polish-speaking ENL students who want to be in the program. According to Ms. Schilling, “For the Polish, we didn’t have the 20 ELL’s [ENL students]… they had 17 ELL’s for that year…but only 10 were willing to go into the class. So what we did was fill the class with Polish speaking general education students that were not ELL’s.” 

Even with the loss of students, the program still pushed forward until the next year when the new upcoming grade would also get a class in the program. It was then discovered that there were not enough teachers for both classes which would include the incoming kindergarten class and the kindergarten class going into first grade. According to Ms. Schilling, “When we tried to find a teacher, only one had the certification and she was not qualified.” Therefore, the board made the tough decision of having to close down the program for the first graders and continue it for the upcoming kindergarteners instead, mostly because there were more students. Ms. Schilling states, “We have to as a district, take this teacher and put her in kindergarten because if they have the 20 [ENL students], we have to stay within the regulations.”  When the district was able to do summer testing, only ten Polish English Language Learners qualified.  All ten Polish ELLs were offered the dual-language Polish class, however, only seven accepted.  The district added seven general education Polish students for a total of  14 in the current kindergarten class.

However, against all these odds the Polish community keeps pushing through and will continue to keep fighting to keep the program alive. Justyna Ornowska, a parent from the Polish community who has continuously been fighting for this program, states in an interview why she and the Polish community want this program. “The program is very beneficial for children who have a foundation in the language that they speak at home meaning that they have a foundation of the Polish language. This program is a continuation of this since they learn both English, which would be the language they use in their everyday lives as they live in America, and Polish on the same level so that their brains can grow knowing two languages.” 

The discontinuation of the dual program which the Polish Community has fought so hard to open, naturally left them quite upset.  This is especially due to the huge number of people who are helping to keep this program going from the Polish side. Ms. Ornowska goes on to say, “When we heard last minute that the Polish program [for the first graders] would be shut down, that felt like a slap in the face since the teaching of our Polish heritage was being denied for all the Polish people [young students] living here. We felt heartbroken since there are so many Polish people, parents and students here who want to be in the program, but instead it just gets deleted.”

When asked about what they Polish community has been doing to make sure that the dual language program stays alive, Ms. Justyna Ornowska states, “Together a great team of parents from the old class, meaning the class that is in first grade, started raising money and taking legal action by finding a good lawyer who can help us with our case in order to show that the program was [allegedly] wrongfully terminated and that all the steps which should be have been taken were not taken in order for this program to continue. The parents will do everything to make sure that the program will be open for the 2021-2022 class year and so that the class which was taken away from the first graders can be open again and the kindergarten will stay open for at least five years which would be the duration of their entire elementary school life. We are doing yard sales and other events in order to gain anything that we may need to take this to court.” Although the Polish community remains distressed, it is important to know that Ms. Schilling and the Lindenhurst Superintendent met with top officials at the Office of Bilingual Education and World Languages (OBEWL) at NYSED during the entire process.  The NYSED officials confirmed that the district has followed all the regulations and guidelines regarding this program and that the district is in no fault whatsoever.  

While the Polish community and the district continue to face difficulties concerning the Polish dual program, time will only tell whether the Polish dual program will continue to strive, or if it will be taken down as per the requirements of NY State and the district. More information about the program can be found in the ENL family nights where the district answers the parents’ questions about the program. 


All quotes from Ms. Justyna Ornowska have been translated from Polish into English.