by Tiffany Rivera | Lourdes Mendoza not only knew she wanted to teach in Bay Shore schools, but specifically in the district’s Dual Language Enrichment Program that her mother, Miriam, pioneered about 25 years ago.

It was either that, or head to the Peace Corps, she said.

In fact, she only applied to Bay Shore.

“I didn’t want to be a teacher anywhere else,” she explained as the two of us sat on a bench during the Dual Language Parent Group’s annual start-of-school picnic Saturday at Gardiner Manor Elementary School.

photos below

To join the program, which consists of one classroom year per grade, parents have to enter a lottery for their kindergartener. Half of the classroom is native in English and half is native in Spanish. The idea is to force the kids to talk to one another in a language that might not be their native tongue.

And kids being kids, they just do it.

Not only that, they thrive.

The program is offered in grade K-5 in the Brook Avenue and Gardiner Manor schools.

Mendoza and I watched as students from many different backgrounds played on the playground together Saturday, and we reminisced about the times when she used to visit her mom’s classes when I was a student, many years ago.

She would spend time visiting the classroom and participating in any events that happened after school. Lourdes Mendoza knew then, since she was 9, she wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Her mom has since retired but the program has only grown.
For me and my three siblings, and so many other families, it’s been a blessing.

We were all chosen for the program. Miriam Mendoza taught me but my brother and sisters had her daughter.

Our mom, Elisa Irvolino, feels really lucky we all got to experience this life-altering program. She is also one of the volunteers that helps put together the early school year picnic.

“It really helps the new families meet other parents from the program in a casual setting,” she said of the event.

For the teachers, they’ll tell you the best part of the annual picnic is coming in contact with former students who went through the program, and hear them talk about what a tremendous help it’s been in their personal and professional lives.

The experiences in the program help its alumni career wise, of course, because many end up being bilingual. But the long-term effects are much more profound.

What these young people also gain is an intimate understanding of a culture, the culture of their neighbors — one that to their peers might otherwise be an abstraction.

That journey to empathy, understanding and peace starts the first day they step into class.

At the start of this school year, for example, there was a very anxious student who came into Mendoza’s classroom from El Salvador.

She witnessed this child’s shoulders ease when a classmate, in this case a blond haired, blue eyed first grader, was easily able to communicate in Spanish with the new student — and she settled in.

“It was really comforting to watch,” Mendoza said.

Top: Dual language teacher Lourdes Mendoza (left) with parent Diana Banegas Zhicay at Saturday’s start-of-school picnic in Bay Shore. (Tiffany Rivera)

Photos from Saturday’s picnic by Tiffany Rivera:

img_2389 img_2398 img_2405 img_2406 img_2415 img_2423