Santa Cruz looks to open bilingual school

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat Jun 23 17:38:33 UTC 2007

June 22, 2007

Santa Cruz looks to open bilingual schoolBy MATT KING
Sentinel staff writer

SANTA CRUZ -- A fledgling program at DeLaveaga Elementary that teaches kids
in English and Spanish is proving so popular that Santa Cruz City Schools
may become one of few districts in the state to open a dual-language school.

   DeLaveaga Elementary teacher Gabriela Mendez works with students in
Spanish as part of the school's dual-immersion program. (Dan Coyro/Sentinel)

 But to open a new kindergarten through eighth-grade school, district
leaders must find an appropriate location and adequate financing, and prove
that dual-immersion works. "I think a dual-language school would be really
powerful," DeLaveaga Principal David Freed said. "The flip-side [of starting
a school elsewhere] is that dual-language fits in well at DeLaveaga and is a
feather in our cap"

Success is imperative because low test scores put schools in danger of
entering program improvement â€" the sanctions of No Child Left Behind that
can result in a state takeover.

*Related story:* DeLaveaga Elementary reaches out for more Spanish-speakers
in dual-immersion<>

Indeed, devoting a school to dual-language instruction would go against a
statewide trend. The number of non-English speaking students in California
who receive some instruction in their native language has fallen by 75
percent since Proposition 227, which limits non-English instruction, was
passed in 1996, according to Veronica Aguila, who oversees language policy
for the state Department of Education.

Spanish instruction is allowed with parent permission, but the fear of
students performing poorly on English-only state tests has prompted many
schools to jettison classes in Spanish and other languages. Students in
dual-immersion typically struggle in early grades because the first two
years of school are 90 percent in Spanish.

"If you go with a two-way program it tends not to show progress in the first
three years," Aguila said. "Schools don't want to be in program improvement
so they get rid of the program without evaluating whether that program
actually works"

Popular but untested

The dual-language program started at the now-closed Branciforte Elementary
with a kindergarten class in 2003. It has attracted nearly 200 students who
enroll through a lottery, and has already outgrown the portable-packed
DeLaveaga campus, which has nearly 600 students. "It's such a gift to them
to be able to speak two languages so well," said Shannon McCord, who has two
kids in the program, "and a huge part of the program is to raise the esteem
of Spanish so children feel like it's a good thing to speak Spanish"

But students in other dual-immersion schools haven't always performed well.
At Alianza Charter School in Watsonville, where nearly all the students are
English-learners, not a single student in grades four through six passed the
state English exam last year. At River Glen School in San Jose, where
there's Spanish- and English-speaking students, results have been better,
but mixed. Last year, 42 percent of the school's fourth-graders passed the
test, but no sixth-graders did.

"Parents like them, but there's not a lot of evidence that Latino students
benefit from the program," said Ron Unz, who runs an English-only advocacy
group and sponsored Proposition 227. Unz thinks dual-immersion programs are
designed for the benefit of English-speaking families. "If these programs
teach both groups of kids to speak both languages perfectly well after five
or six years, why not start off 90 percent in English?" he said. "The answer
is that the relatively affluent white parents want their kids to learn

Two recent studies by school research centers WestEd and EdSource have found
little definitive evidence that favors one method of language instruction
over another. The EdSource study declared that how a school operates within
any program is the critical factor, Executive Director Trish Williams said.
"Based on the studies, that seems to be the case," Williams said, "but the
proof is in the results. The question to ask when you're looking at a school
is, 'What are that school's [test scores]?' "

So far, DeLaveaga has just one year of results for students in
dual-immersion. The results show why critics question the program, which
teaches first-graders in 90 percent Spanish and doesn't balance English and
Spanish instruction until grade five. Last year, the scores of second-grade
Spanish-speaking kids were barely half as good as Spanish-speaking kids in
English-only classes.

Worth the wait

But teachers say giving students a strong foundation in their own language
will pay off by the end of elementary school. And they expect dual-immersion
students to outperform their English-only peers in addition to reaping the
benefits and career opportunities of speaking a second language. "There's a
fear about wasting time in Spanish when the goal is to speak English,"
third-grade teacher Sharon Reeves said. "There's a fear that it will take
too long and it won't work. In first and second grade, the parents really
have to trust because there's going to be a delay in English"

That was the case for Jessica and Pedro Corona, a Ben Lomond couple who have
three bilingual kids in the program. "We had that experience with my
third-grader," Jessica Corona said. "He was pretty slow in reading English
but he just kind of made the click this year. It's kind of a leap of faith
that it's all going to even out eventually" The Coronas make the trip from
the San Lorenzo Valley to DeLaveaga every day because they want their kids,
who speak more English than Spanish, to be close to Pedro's family, some of
whom live in Mexico.

"When my oldest son went to school, all of a sudden he wasn't speaking
Spanish anymore. He couldn't communicate with his grandfather," Pedro Corona
said. "Last summer when we went to Mexico, it was a lot different"

A broader goal

Elevating the status of Spanish language and Mexican culture and churning
out students who are advanced in two languages are the program's ultimate
goals, teachers say. "I believe that being bilingual opens up amazing
opportunities. It teaches kids to have a greater perspective on the world
and use more of their brains," second-grade teacher Sierra Hill said. "It's
a belief-shifting and we all dream that the goals we have in this program
can reflect the larger society at some point"

A task force will make recommendations for the program in the fall. It's
possible dual-immersion will remain at DeLaveaga and be taught in later
grades at Branciforte Middle School because there is no obvious location for
a new school. The district will also consider whether to charter a
dual-immersion school, which would give it more latitude under state and
federal regulations.

Contact Matt King at
mking at<mking at
Cruz looks to open bilingual

Dual-language program

   - Instruction is 90 percent in Spanish in kindergarten and
   first-grade, 80 percent in second-grade, and continues to drop 10 percent
   each year until Spanish and English are used equally.
   - DeLaveaga Elementary has 152 students in dual-immersion from
   kindergarten through third-grade, including 60 dominant Spanish speakers.
   - The program will expand to fourth-grade next year.
   - Santa Cruz City Schools is exploring a school devoted to language
   immersion from kindergarten through eighth-grade.

 Learning English: This story is the latest in an occasional series on
improving English literacy and fluency in native Spanish speakers. To see
previous stories, visit

You can find this story online at:

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