'In Miami, You Need to Speak Two Languages Anyway'

May 2, 2017

On a Wednesday afternoon at Lorah Park Elementary School in Brownsville, a half dozen 4-year-olds are clustered on the carpet trying to keep up with a song on Spanish greetings.

“Y como están?,” their teacher asks once the music stops, slowing things down so they have time to enunciate.

“MUY. BIEN. GRA-CI-AS,” they reply in a chorus. “¿Y USTED?”

In another room, second graders try their hand at a series of dizzying Spanish tongue twisters—“Como poco coco como, poco coco compro.” (Since I don’t eat much coconut, I don’t buy much either.”)

Teacher Elizabeth Molina calls on second graders eager to try their hand at Spanish tongue twisters.
Credit Rowan Moore Gerety / WLRN

This is Lorah Park Elementary's after-school “Spanish Club,” held for an hour in each grade two afternoons a week. “We’re bilingual during the day,” says Principal Maria LaCavalla. “So they teach Spanish in isolation, but also in their math and science blocks.”

Lorah Park is one of a dozen so-called BISO schools, or Bilingual School Organizations, in South Florida. The student body is more than 80 percent black. LaCavalla says very few of the students speak Spanish at home, though many go on to take Spanish-for-Spanish-speakers classes when they reach Miami Springs Middle School.

“My daughter—she’d rather speak Spanish than English,” parent Debbie Humes says of her second grader. Humes says no one in her family speaks Spanish—and Spanish wasn’t the reason she chose Lorah Park when her daughter was in kindergarten. But by now, “If she sees a Spanish person in the street, she’ll say ‘Hola! ¿Como está?’ She wants to be bilingual. I think it will work out for her. In Miami, you have to speak two languages anyway.”