Fluent in English and Spanish? A synagogue preschool wants its students to be, too

Jackie Perez, a Spanish immersion teacher at Margaux Early Childhood School, with student Juno Friedan, who will be enrolling in this fall’s new program.
Jackie Perez, a Spanish immersion teacher at Margaux Early Childhood School, with student Juno Friedan, who will be enrolling in this fall’s new program. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

The Margaux Early Childhood School of Temple Judea will begin a Spanish immersion program this fall for children 18- to 35 months old.

All lessons and interactions between students and teachers will be in Spanish during the year-long program, which will mirror the Coral Gables school’s regular curriculum.

“I felt that this is a wonderful school with such dynamic teachers, staff, and programming, that it would help tremendously to have this as an option for parents and children,” said Rachel Delgado, whose 2-year-old son, Marcel, will be enrolled in the fall.

Delgado, a member of the Margaux Parent’s Association, speaks both Spanish and English at home. She finds multilingualism essential, not just in the Miami area, but everywhere.

Immersing kids at an early age can lead to practical advantages later on in life, on top of the educational benefits, she said.

“For everybody trying to raise a bilingual child, whatever your background and reason, it’s very important to realize that acquiring a language requires massive exposure to that language,” Florida Atlantic University Professor Erika Hoff told The New York Times in a July article.

Margoux Early Childhood School of Temple Judea is implementing a Spanish immersion program this fall. CRESONIA HSIEH Miami Herald File

The Margaux bilingual program is available to all families, whether they speak Spanish or not. Two groups will participate: one of 18-month-olds, with two teachers per eight kids; and a group of 2-year-olds, with two teachers per 12 kids.

Classroom objects will be labeled in both English and Spanish and all instructions will be in Spanish. Other forms of communication, including body language and facial expression, will be used in the classroom to facilitate understanding.

The kids will be surrounded by the language, said Mikki Feinberg, Margaux’s Early Childhood director.

“The most important part of preschool [is] that children feel confident and safe,” Feinberg said. “We want them to engage and express themselves in any way and in any language.”

For participating families that don’t speak Spanish, English packets will be sent home so parents can track their kids’ progress.

According to Feinberg, about 70 percent of children at Margaux come from Jewish families. The ratio for children in the bilingual program has yet to be determined.

“I think that’s a part of what makes Temple Judea a special place,” Feinberg said. “We try to invite everyone, no matter what they speak, no matter what their religious beliefs are, [to] feel respected.”

The bilingual program will take place in the school’s Frank Family Education Center, which was renovated last October with new classrooms, multifunctional areas and an outdoor playground.

Many parents say they saw the program as a chance to make an already great school greater.

Kim Gerber, a Margaux alumni and mother of two daughters, said her youngest, 2-years-old, will be enrolling in the immersion program.

Gerber said her older daughter already likes to engage in Spanish, and she hopes the program will instill similar feelings in her younger daughter.

“I’m thrilled that my second child is going to school where my oldest one and I went,” Gerber said. “There’s phenomenal faculty, a beautiful campus, and dedication to every kid [having] an experience [where] they’re developing, growing, and learning to be better people.”