Spanish in School?

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Dec 19 13:42:52 UTC 2005

>>From the Hutchinson (Kansas) News

Spanish in school?
Practice commonplace in western half of state

By Tim Vandenack tvandenack at

LIBERAL - Walking through the halls between classes at Liberal High School
or chowing down with her friends in the cafeteria, Violet Lopez frequently
lapses into Spanish. "It just comes out naturally," said the senior, who
grew up speaking Spanish at home but is as comfortable with English.
"Without even thinking, I'll start speaking it." Cherie Carter, a
Caucasian senior who's studied Spanish since her freshman year,
occasionally slips into Spanish with Hispanic friends in the lunchroom or
out on the basketball court.

"Que pasa?" she'll ask, or "What's up?" in English.

With Hispanics accounting for well over half of the student body in
southwest Kansas' three largest school districts - Liberal USD 480, Garden
City USD 457 and Dodge City USD 443 - Spanish is hard to avoid. The
Liberal district is 65 percent Hispanic, some of those first-generation
newcomers, while the numbers are 66 percent in Dodge City and 60 percent
in Garden City. "Our kids are speaking Spanish in the lunchroom, in the
hallway," said Garden City High School Principal James Mireles. Some
teachers, he adds, even greet their students with "hola" or "buenos dias"
each day.

Accordingly, the notion of a student being suspended for speaking Spanish
- as occurred late last month at a Kansas City, Kan., school - is as
unlikely here as it is cause for incredulity. The father of the
16-year-old, who later was reinstated, since has filed suit, charging that
the school infringed upon the teen's civil rights. "If we were to kick out
everyone who spoke Spanish in the hallway, we wouldn't have a school,"
Carter said. "It wouldn't even fly. The whole community would be
outraged." Practically, Mireles says, though English is, by and large, the
language of instruction at Garden City High School, being bilingual is a
plus in today's global economy. Moreover, he suggests it would be
culturally insensitive to forbid a language.

"We want all of our kids to learn English, and I think the kids want to
learn English and their parents do, too," Mireles said. "But we don't want
to discourage their native language." More fundamentally, Eric Castaneda,
another Liberal High School senior, alludes to the U.S. Bill of Rights and
notes that the United States doesn't have an official language. "This
country was founded on freedom of speech," said Castaneda, who speaks
Spanish at home with his parents but English at school.

'Speak in English'

There was a time when speaking Spanish was frowned upon at Liberal High
School, says Jim Little, the principal. That was back in the late 1980s
and early 1990s, before southwest Kansas' Hispanic population really
started to grow. "It wasn't a policy. It was just frowned upon," he said.
"We'd say, 'Speak in English.' " Now, though, it just isn't practical to
crack down on Spanish speakers, he said. And though Spanish is the
language of instruction in Liberal, Little notes that a bit of Spanish
inside the classroom sometimes comes in handy.

For some students, English is a second language, so if a teacher uses a
word they don't understand, another bilingual student can help fill them
in. "Sometimes, it's a matter of getting one or two words across," Little
said. "Why not use what you have? It's a resource." Still, there are times
when the use of Spanish might merit discipline - if a student cusses, for
instance. "Of course, that would be for vulgarity, not for speaking that
language,"  Mireles said.

By and large, though, the consensus seems to be that the ability to speak
Spanish, along with English, is a major plus, especially with increased
globalization. And such multilingualism might be inevitable, adds Luz
Riggs, a Spanish instructor at Liberal High School. "Our nation is no
longer an isolated island in a sea of nations," Riggs said. "It's a
wonderful melting pot of many races and languages."

12/17/2005; 02:32:18 AM

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