Bi-Cultural Program for Children with Special Needs
Dr. Ronald S. Lenkowsky
a classroom in Whitestone, Queens, young children celebrated
the New Year by performing the Lion Dance Parade for their peers,
playing the dragon’s head and tail, reading aloud books in Mandarin
and Cantonese, and feasting on traditional delicacies such as
wontons, fish soup and candies prepared by their parents.
It was Chinese New Year and the children of the bilingual Chinese
classrooms at the Clearview School were celebrating the holiday.
The bilingual Chinese classrooms are part of an innovative program
created by the New York League for Early Learning (NYL) to fill
an important, under-served area in early childhood education.
NYL is a member of the YAI/National Institute for People with
Disabilities network, a group of not-for-profit agencies that
serve people with developmental and learning disabilities of
all ages and their families.
With almost 12 percent of the students enrolled in the New York
City Public School system in grades K–12 of Asian or Pacific
Islander ethnicity, there is an increased demand for bilingual
Chinese programs, especially those serving children with special
needs. In order to better serve this growing population, NYL’s
Clearview School has three classrooms dedicated to working with
NYL’s Clearview School serves 15 children of Asian descent.
The program consists of one half-day, bilingual Chinese classroom
and a full-day classroom. The six bilingual staff members who
work with the children come from diverse regions of China and,
combined, speak five dialects.
The Clearview School recently received the New York City Outstanding
Early Childhood Program Award. The lesson plans designed by
the teacher of the half-day classrooms, Hsaun-Mei Chien (Mei),
were recognized in conjunction with this award and were recommended
for use as model lesson plans in bilingual early education.
makes NYL’s Clearview program so successful is that it not only
helps a unique group of children, but it also benefits parents,”
said Hilary Tischenkel, Clearview’s principal.
Because the staff share the same language and culture as the
children and their families, huge language and cultural barriers
are eliminated, allowing a trusting, respectful connection to
be established between the child, family and service providers.
This relationship is key to the successful provision of services
and support to the child.
Mei sends home a newsletter in Chinese informing the parents
of the week’s activities. She encourages the parents to check
out the book they will be reading in class so that they can
reinforce the concepts and vocabulary at home. By having school
staff who speak the family’s home language, the parents can
become more involved in their child’s education. They can understand
forms and notices the school sends home, and participate in
Additionally, the parents feel more comfortable knowing that
the teachers understand the child’s cultural needs and that
their culture will be maintained and respected in the classroom.
Through the celebration of Chinese traditions such as the New
Year or the Moon Day festival, art projects making lanterns
and puppets, or singing folk songs in Mandarin, the children
learn about their cultural heritage.
Thanks to this very unique and innovative program, young children
with special needs of all races and ethnicities are receiving
specialized services that better prepare them to succeed in
S. Lenkowsky, Ed.D., is director of the New York League for