Amherst, Holyoke schools get $300K boost for bilingual education

  • Alaina Vargas Sanchez and Nemesis Torres Sanchez, two fourth-grade students in the Dual Language Program at Joseph Metcalf School in Holyoke.  Submitted photo

Staff Writer 
Published: 1/11/2019 7:42:48 PM

AMHERST — New money is set to flow into dual-language programs in Amherst and Holyoke public schools.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education this week awarded the two districts a total of $300,000 in grant funding for bilingual education.

The money will help start a program in Amherst next academic year and grow Holyoke’s program, which started in 2014.

The grant will fund initiatives such as training teachers and visiting other schools with similar programs, said Amherst Public School Superintendent Michael Morris and Holyoke Public School Superintendent Stephen Zrike. Both districts are working with several colleges and universities to receive professional development with some of the money.

“The resources needed to run a successful program are a lot more than what’s needed if you’re running a traditional elementary or middle school,” Zrike said.

At Fort River Elementary in Amherst, for example, funding will help 18 teachers who are not teaching in the bilingual program to become conversational in Spanish, Morris said.

In November, the Amherst School Committee approved a Spanish dual-language program, planned to start next school year at Fort River. It was recently approved by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Morris said.

In its first year, the Amherst program will be in kindergarten classrooms only, and then gradually expand up a grade each year until all grades through sixth grade have the program. Although the program will be based at Fort River, students from other schools can apply through a lottery, with priority given to English learners who speak Spanish. Students in the bilingual program will spend half their day learning in English and the other half Spanish.

Motivation for the program includes an increasing number of Latinx students and English language learners in the elementary school. Between 2007 and 2017, Latinx students increased in the elementary schools by 30 percent in Amherst while English language learners students increased by 35 percent, according to data provided by Morris.

“We’re really excited about the program from the equity perspective,” said Katie Richardson, ELL coordinator at Amherst Public Schools.

While Amherst is gearing up to start its program, Holyoke has run one for several years now. The district’s program now serves more than 200 students at Joseph Metcalf School and at E.N. White School. Currently, it is implemented in the kindergarten and some elementary school grades. Zrike said the program is popular and they plan to expand it.

“Our long-term vision is expanding to the high school,” he said.

Zrike said the Holyoke and Amherst districts will collaborate by attending trainings and staff education on bilingual education together.

“It’s exciting to be working with our neighbors on something we think will be good for kids across the region,” he said.

Greta Jochem can be reached at


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