Chicago has continued to see steady preschool enrollment by the Latino community, and their successful program could proove to be a model for other states. (Getty Images)

Will Illinois lead the country in bilingual education?

Last week, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a law strengthening the state’s already innovative bilingual education program. The law was sponsored by State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia and State Senator Iris Martinez, whose goal is to create a more inclusive atmosphere for immigrant families and encourage them to take an active role in their children’s education.

The first state to require bilingual preschool programs, Illinois’ new law will continue to support the program and realize Representative LaVia and Senator Martinez’s vision by creating “parent academies” where Spanish-speaking families can learn to navigate the school system through classes that teach about topics like standardize testing, literacy development, the importance of homework, and more.

This event comes at a critical time when Latino enrollment in preschool in other parts of the country have seen an alarming drop. At its peak in 2005, only 53 percent of Latino families enrolled their child in preschool, but one report showed a steady decline by 2009. According to an article in Education Week, Mexican-American families especially have a low enrollment rate here in the U.S., which is ironic because in Mexico, more than 80 percent of the country’s children attend a preschool – probably because it is universally available.

Chicago, however, has continued to see steady enrollment by the Latino community, and their successful program could proove to be a model for other states. In fact, over the last few years, the Chicago Public School system created Virtual Pre-K!®, a bilingual online program that provides educational lessons for both parents and teachers to use with their children and students at home or in the classroom.

But many Latino parents wonder why so much  emphasis is placed on preschool.

The goal of preschool is to prepare your child for academic success in kindergarten and beyond. Too many of our children are starting kindergarten already behind, and some never catch up. English Language Learners especially struggle academically, and according to the 2011 Illinois State Report Card, only 67 percent of them graduate from high school.

In preschool, children learn the basic skills for literacy, math, and socio-emotional development. From letter and number recognition, to shapes, colors, and fine-motor skills, preschool lays the foundation for reading, math, and science success.

But some parents can’t afford or don’t have access to a quality preschool program. Some simply don’t want to send their child to one at such an early age, and argue that their children can learn this at home instead. And they’re right…IF they are actively taking the time to work with their children to teach them these critical skills.

This is where programs like ReadyRosie become especially valuable. ReadyRosie is an online school readiness program to prepare children up to 4 years of age for school. Every day parents watch a short 2-minute video that models different activities that parents can do and turn almost any situation into a teachable moment. It focuses on teaching the basic skills for literacy and math mentioned above. The best part is that the videos are available in English and Spanish.

And for socio-emotional development, PBS’s new series Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood launching on September 3rd, is their first show created specifically for children ages 2 to 4. It is designed to teach preschoolers how to express their emotions in a positive and productive manner.

Plaza Familia is another new resource for Latino families. Its main focus is on providing bilingual information on education via multiple platforms, including free magazines and their website. Their blog publishes content in both English and Spanish to help parents better understand the school system, and support their children at home.

Will Illinois lead the country in bilingual education? monica oliveras profile small 1 education NBC Latino News

Monica Olivera Hazelton, NBC Latino contributor and  the founder and publisher of, a site for Latino families that homeschool, as well as families with children in a traditional school setting who want to take a more active role in their children’s education. She is the 2011 winner of the “Best Latina Education Blogger” award by LATISM.


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