The 1963 Coral Way Bilingual Program: The First Publicly-Funded Dual Language Program in the United States

Black and white photo of 20+ elementary students from the 1960s
Submitted by Dr. Maria Coady, Associate Professor of ESOL and Bilingual Education at the University of Florida College of Education

Among bilingual educators in the U.S. the name “Coral Way” is a virtual household word. Whenever scholars write about the start of dual language programs, they accurately cite the Coral Way school and its contributions to the field. As a scholar, I too was keenly familiar with the name Coral Way and its legacy reputation. However, I knew little about the real stories, people, and energy that went into opening this country’s first publicly-funded dual language program—referred to in 1963 simply as “the bilingual program.”

Photograph of terracotta fountain in courtyard with palm trees and a building in the background.
Photograph of the Coral Way Elementary Fountain, 2018 taken by Dr. Maria Coady

Dual language programs are educational programs that provide academic instruction through the medium of two languages. Across the U.S. today, there are more than 3,000 of these programs, and the number is increasing rapidly. English is typically one of the two languages of instruction, but many languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, Mandarin, Cantonese, Greek, and Hindi are taught alongside English. The goal of these programs is to develop high levels of bilingualism and bi-literacy among the participating students. The first of this kind of educational program, Coral Way was an experiment in whether two languages (in this case, Spanish and English) could be learned in school without loss to the first.

In 2017 I was approached by Bess de Farber, a grant manager at the University of Florida. She approached me because of my work in bilingual education and her background as one of the first students in the Coral Way bilingual program, the first publicly funded program of this type in the United States. Bess informed me about her work, some ten years prior, with Dr. Richard Ruiz at the University of Arizona, who collected archival data and oral histories from former teachers, students, and “Cuban aides” at Coral Way Elementary.

Black and white photo of girl on bicycle in front of palm trees and a school building.
Bessie de Farber in front of Coral Way Elementary, 1962

I was immediately intrigued by the Coral Way history. I started to dig into areas of education that I never knew before. The oral histories that were collected in 2007 and 2008 by Ruiz and de Farber at UF provided depth and insights into the context and stories of children and families in the Miami, Florida area. I listened to those stories over the course of a summer and worked with UF Education Librarian, Brittany Kester, to identify additional sources from newspapers, namely the Miami Herald, and journals from that era. In fact, many of the stories collected ten years earlier were the last recordings from teachers of that time, because they are no longer with us.

Black and white photo of 20+ elementary students from the 1960s
Coral Way Elementary Bilingual Class in the 1960s

Next I dug deep into archives that hadn’t yet been examined. I unearthed the sole dissertation on Coral Way students from 1968 by Dr. Mabel Wilson Richardson, who completed a Doctorate in Education from the University of Miami. I had a major breakthrough when I was granted access to the Ford Foundation archives located in New York state at the Rockefeller Dimes Archive Center. Ford Foundation funded the Coral Way bilingual program with $278,000 in 1963, the equivalent of more than $2.1 million today. I examined memos, notes, reports and grant applications that described the evolution of Coral Way from an idea in the sociopolitical context of the Castro’s rise to power in Cuba in 1959, the Cuban refugee crisis, Bay of Pigs, and Operation Pedro Pan.

Memo containing information about issue facing the Coral Way School in 1968
Memo from J. Lee Logan on the future of Coral Way, 1968

With help from de Farber and Kester, I identified and conducted new oral histories from Coral Way teachers and students who participated in the program between 1961 and 1968. The story of Coral Way came more clearly into focus, and its long term impact on the lives of students was clear. The journey I undertook led me across the US and Europe, to newspapers and obituaries, and to academic journals from the 1960s until today.

My goal in writing The Coral Way Bilingual Program was not only to document a legacy educational program but to carry the stories of our past into the present and future.

Cover of The Coral Way Bilingual Program by Maria R. Coady with close up of school sign/doors
The Coral Way Bilingual Program by Maria R. Coady (2019)

Interact with the Coral Way Elementary Collection in the George A. Smathers Libraries bilingual online exhibit or in the University of Florida Digital Collection (UFDC)


  1. Viviana Arias
    November 1, 2023

    Good evening.
    I love your article. The 1963 Coral Way Bilingual Program: The First Publicly-Funded Dual Language Program in the United States.
    Would you mind sharing with me the date you published this article, please? I would like to refer to this article in my Ph.D work.

    Thank you

    1. admin
      November 1, 2023

      I’m glad you liked it. This article was published December 2, 2019, but for more information please do check out Prof. Cody’s book and the digital collection of primary source materials we have linked in the blog.


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