Hoboken Dual Language Charter School, or HoLa, was honored as a recognized program in the 2023 School Leader Awards for its AP Spanish Program at its HoLa Middle School. The awards honor creative and effective programs in New Jersey schools.

Founded in 2010, Hoboken Dual Language Charter School was the first public Spanish and English dual language charter school in New Jersey. More than 430 K-8 students attend the school.

In 2021, HoLa Middle School developed a Spanish language arts curriculum for seventh and eighth graders that was evaluated by the College Board and approved as a college level AP course. As a result, all HoLa eighth-grade students now graduate with an AP designation on their high school transcript and can sit for the College Board AP Spanish Language and Culture exam. Upon successful completion of the AP exam, HoLa students qualify to start high school with college credits.

Jen Sargent, HoLa’s executive director and co-founder, expressed her gratitude for the award, saying, “This award is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our entire HoLa community. We are honored to be recognized by the NJSBA for our innovative programs and our commitment to student success. This remarkable success stems from the unique experience our students receive, starting in kindergarten, where they seamlessly master the art of reading and writing in both Spanish and English.”

HoLa’s eighth graders have recently delved into works like “Cuando Era Puertorriqueña” (When I Was Puerto Rican) by Esmeralda Santiago and “¿Quien Cuenta Las Estrellas?” (Who Counts the Stars?) by Lois Lowry. These novels fueled discussions and cultural analyses of global social responsibility, prompting students to explore their role in society and advocate for change, and allowed students to forge connections with Spanish-speaking peers in Spain through a foreign
correspondence program.

According to the school’s award application, “Students draft essays and engage in authentic conversations with Spanish-speaking student counterparts in Spain through our partnerships with schools abroad. Teachers guide students as they read analytically, apply their learning in writing with revisions for technical accuracy, including grammar and style, and then engage in classroom discussions about the material and cultures – all in Spanish.”

One of the key indicators of the program’s success is how well students have performed on the AP exam.

“In 2022, our first year of administration, an impressive 81% of our students successfully passed the AP exam, showcasing their mastery of the subject matter and their readiness for higher education,” according to the school’s award application. “Additionally, HoLa is participating in the Pathway to Biliteracy pilot program (administered in eighth grade), and in 2023, 100% of HoLa’s 8th graders passed the examination to receive the Pathway to Biliteracy designation upon graduating.”

While the high pass rate on the AP exam is an important achievement, the true value of the AP level Spanish language arts curriculum lies in the exposure to the college-level rigor that students experience, according to the school. “We believe every student can achieve success when in a rigorous and supportive environment,” the school stated in its application.

To ensure the program continues to improve, it administers the STAMP language proficiency assessment on an annual basis, monitoring students’ second language skills in reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

Nicole Cammarota, president of HoLa’s board of trustees, expressed her appreciation for NJSBA’s recognition, stating, “It’s not easy to blaze new trails year after year. I want to take this opportunity to thank our talented teachers, administrators, and staff, our incredible parent community, our hardworking board of trustees and friends of HoLa teams, and, of course, our dedicated co-founder and executive director, Jen Sargent. In my opinion, the key to HoLa’s continued success is our collective sense of community. Thank you for making HoLa such a special place for our children.”

Harry Lee, president and CEO of the New Jersey Public Charter Schools Association, echoed praise for HoLa, stating, “HoLa’s commitment to student growth and innovation exemplifies the charter school sector’s dedication to providing high-quality education in New Jersey. We are delighted to see Hoboken Dual Language Charter School recognized for their remarkable language acquisition program, which sets a powerful example for the importance of bilingual education and showcases just how exceptional it can be when implemented effectively.”

For more information about HoLa Hoboken Dual Language Charter School, please visit www.holahoboken.org.