South Charlotte

South Charlotte preschool makes strides for Spanish-speakers

“All these kids are asking for is a fair shot,” says Joanne Stratton Tate, shown here surrounded by a few Latina preschoolers at Charlotte Bilingual Preschool.
“All these kids are asking for is a fair shot,” says Joanne Stratton Tate, shown here surrounded by a few Latina preschoolers at Charlotte Bilingual Preschool. KATYA LEZIN

Many Spanish-speaking children start kindergarten in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools an average of 12 to 18 months behind their peers in terms of pre-reading skills and language development.

Charlotte Bilingual Preschool, a North-Carolina-licensed five-star preschool, is making great strides in bridging that gap. The school addresses the academic needs of Spanish-speaking Latino families by providing dual-language early childhood education.

Founded in 2000 to address the needs of children left out of early childhood education, Charlotte Bilingual Preschool has a dual approach to helping its students reach their potential.

“We believe that parents are the first and the best educators,” said Joanne Stratton Tate, the head of the school. “Enabling them to be involved in their children’s education will continue long after our involvement with them.”

Tate, 59, joined Charlotte Bilingual Preschool in 2013, after nine-and-half years as the dean of community life at Trinity Episcopal School.

“The beauty of this place and what so excites me about early childhood education is that it is such a powerful catalyst,” said Tate, who has a degree in social work from Virginia Commonwealth University and a masters in education from UNC Charlotte.

Charlotte Bilingual Preschool has a staff of 11, and the teaching staff of six is bilingual. The school’s ideal is to have one native English-speaker and one native Spanish-speaker teaching in each classroom.

Another distinguishing feature of Charlotte Bilingual Preschool is that it actively involves parents in the educational process. Its mission to engage the parents as well as the preschoolers includes extensive workshops on parenting as well as individual home visits and support.

Though it operates as a nonprofit, the school charges a token tuition for each child of $70 per month, to teach parents that education is a valuable investment.

“We want them to have ownership in their child’s education,” Tate said.

In July, Charlotte Bilingual Preschool will be moving to a new location, taking over vacated classrooms in the Old Hickory Grove Elementary School. The move will allow the preschool to double its current enrollment of 72 children and introduce an extension of its parent program.

“The sooner you start, the better,” said Tate, adding that the new parenting classes will give the 300 families on the waiting list access to language and literacy programs.

The school’s annual $900,000 budget – consisting of SmartStart funding and donations from private community foundations, churches and individuals – just got a $15,000 boost from its first-place finish in this year’s SEED20 competition among social entrepreneurs seeking funding. For Tate, the win represented far more than the check that came with it.

“It showed that the community is on board with the challenge of tapping the potential of Latino children rather than neglecting their needs,” she said.

Katya Lezin is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Katya? Email her at bowserwoof@mindspring.com.

Learn more:

For information or to volunteer or donate to Charlotte Bilingual Preschool, visit www.bilingualpreschool.org.

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