Last night was another big win for the Bilingual Revolution, which continues to sweep through New York City and the United States at large. Taking the stage at the French Embassy this Tuesday were three educators who were honored for their efforts in spreading the revolution to their schools.
Bénédicte de Montlaur, Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, presented Anna Amato, Heather Foster-Mann, and Lena Johnson-Barbera with the insignia of Chevalier of the Ordre des Palmes Académiques, one of the highest honors an educator can receive, directly from the French government. Notably, all three educators are principals in Brooklyn, which has long been the hub for Bilingual Revolution, for many, its very home.
Amato, the principal of P.S. 110 was presented with quite the challenge when an eager group of parents approached her one April, wanting to launch a bilingual program at the school by September. Amato accepted the challenge, and five years later boasts of a school with burgeoning Spanish, French, Polish, and Japanese programs. German and Chinese programs are launching this September. Her award that evening, along with her previous receipt of the Cannes Fellowship are both well-deserved. Amato sits at the forefront of one of the most bilingual schools in all of New York City.
Foster-Mann, principal of P.S. 133 was born in Jamaica. She is also a recipient of the Cannes Fellowship award, as well as recognized by the Embassy of Spain for her work as an educator promoting the Spanish language at her school: “Coming from Jamaica, I’m an advocate for immigrant children in general.. some of my children come from France not speaking much English, and it’s incredible how quickly they get it.”
Cultural Counselor Bénédicte de Montlaur noted the number of times that American parents approach her to start programs in their local schools, emphasizing the importance of the initial interaction between the parents and the principals. Anna Cano Amato attested to this in a conversation after the ceremony: “My first language was Spanish. All of our staff is bilingual, so it’s important that we begin (our programs) with committed parents who understand the importance of bilingual education.”
An interaction like this also inspired Lena Johnson-Barbera’s kindergarten dual language program at P.S. 20 in 2013, the first of its kind, after a parent approached her with the desire to start one. Born and raised in Brooklyn, she recognized the educational and cultural benefits of such a program, which encouraged her to push through the fear of tackling something at the time very foreign and with a very steep learning curve. This inspired her to work with the parents and teachers to best allocate her resources and achieve bilingual success at her school: “If you put people where they’re happy, and you have them doing what they love, then they do that really well, which is what I realized when I took into account my 4th grade teacher’s French language skills and had her be our first French teacher.”
All three honorees emphasized the personal sacrifices that come along with being a principal in such a rigorous environment. Oftentimes, their own children go without parents: Lena thanked her family for sometimes having to “make their own meals.”
If this is what the future of New York City schools looks like, one can only imagine the diversity of tongues on the subway in 20 years.