California: Teachers, kids say 'si' to program

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Oct 3 10:19:27 UTC 2006

 Posted on Mon, Oct. 02, 2006

Teachers, kids say 'si' to program

By Andrew Becker

The rules in Lourdes Mendell's third-grade classroom are not hard to live
by for neither her English-speaking students nor her Spanish-speaking
ones. Nor are they hard to read -- even if they're written in Spanish.
That's because the 20 or so students have been taking classes in Spanish
and English since they were in kindergarten as part of the school's dual
immersion program. The rules -- "reglas" in Spanish -- are simple:
Cooperate with the teacher and classmates, respect the rights and property
of others and basically be responsible. For Yahya Saaadat and her
classmates D'Najee Smith and Maya Rosalez, answering questions in Spanish
such as their name, age, where they're from and whether they have any
siblings is all kiddie stuff. And helping each other out is elementary.

"I like it all -- the subjects and learning the language," Maya, 8, said.
Starting in kindergarten, students in such classes receive 90 percent of
instruction time in Spanish, and 10 percent in English. With a 10 percent
shift in language instruction time, students eventually are taught in
equal amounts of English and Spanish once they get to the fifth grade. At
Foothill Elementary, where the program is in its fourth year, a third of
the 720 students are now enrolled in Spanish-English dual immersion or
bilingual classes. Of those in the program, a third are native English
speakers, another third are English learners and the last third are
bilingual, said Katy Colbath, Pittsburg's English learners coordinator.

Of the 300 students in Pittsburg's programs -- Willow Cove Elementary is
in its third year -- 90 percent are Latino. Colbath said few students drop
out because of the emphasis on commitment. It's commitment that pays off,
Colbath said. By the second grade, students in dual immersion classes were
outperforming other school district students on reading comprehension,
where they'd previously been behind, she said. Statewide, nearly 30,000
students have enrolled in about 200 programs, according to the state
Department of Education. About 90 percent of the programs are in Spanish.
Between 2003 and 2005 alone there was an 18 percent increase in the number
of such programs. In the past 10 years there's been an almost 300 percent
increase in programs. English-speaking students are not allowed into the
program after the first grading period of first grade and Spanish-speaking
students are not allowed into the program after third grade. Teachers do
not switch back and forth between languages in the classroom as a matter
of practice and principle.

Colbath said she'd like to see dual immersion program extend to the high
school and throughout the district. But with a dearth of bilingual
teachers with the proper teaching credential, anxiety about not meeting
federal achievement goals and the challenges of local support, widespread
classes may be difficult to institute, said Veronica Aguila, manager for
language policy and leadership office at the state Department of
Education. Still, with the cultural diversity in California, dual
immersion programs offer greater cultural awareness, Aguila said, as well
as better job opportunities. "European countries know that," she said.
"The two-way program gives students the ability to be on the cutting

Jill Kerper Mora, an associate professor of teacher education at San Diego
State, sees the continued growth of dual immersion programs in California
as being a key to educating English learners, who make up about one in
four students in California. For Angel Valencia, who has a third-grade
daughter in the program, it's a way for her to embrace her heritage and
expand her horizons. "I feel my children have the capability to be
proficient in more than one language," said Valencia, who used to teach at
Foothill and is now a lecturer at Cal State East Bay. "My children don't
need to be ashamed of their Mexican descent. It's OK to be of two
cultures. It's OK to be of two languages."


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