Glendale News-Press

Saturday, November 7, 1998

A Classroom View of Prop. 227
Seventeen of Perla Chavez's 20 first-graders at Cerritos Elementary School are getting some instruction in Spanish.

GLENDALE -- Backers of Proposition 227 believed bilingual education was a failed experiment that doesn't help students learn English.
     Opponents of Proposition 227 believed it took away from successful local programs that worked, imposing one untested method for the entire state.
     First-grade teacher Perla Chavez, who works at Cerritos Elementary in the Glendale Unified School District, just wants her students to learn to read.
Proposition 227, approved by California voters in the June 2 election, dictates that a majority of instruction must be in English.
     In Chavez's class, 17 of the 20 families, as allowed by 227, still requested some Spanish instruction. A 30-day waiting period put her behind schedule, Chavez said, and she said she feels like time is working against her.
     Those who criticize bilingual education should spend a week in her class, Chavez said.
     "I talk to them in English, we're doing math and social studies in English and we have English language development, 45 minutes of only English speaking," Chavez said. "Once they're able to read one language, reading the second is easier. Also with vocabulary, if they're reading a language they don't know, they won't understand what they're reading."
     During a September visit, Chavez worked on the letter "z" with a small group of her first-graders, asking what words they know that begin with the letter. Students often responded with Spanish words such as "zoologico," and Chavez asked them how to say that in English.
     "We usually start right away working on sounds," Chavez said. "I feel like I'm on hold. Kids are ready to go, but we're not giving them an opportunity to go on."
     English is difficult to read, while Spanish is phonetic and easier, Chavez said, and the English vocabulary is not familiar to her students.
     "We're bombarding them with vocabulary," Chavez said. "My goal is to have them reading and writing and meeting all curriculum. My standards haven't been lowered, there's just more hurdles to overcome."
     Proposition 227 included the ability for parents to submit exception waivers after a 30-day waiting period. After carefully examining the programs offered at the school, parents could request their children be placed in a primary language program.
     About 100, or nearly 20%, of an enrollment of 544 at Cerritos requested instruction in Spanish, Bishop said. Those students are provided support in Spanish in the classroom, Bishop said, with a continued focus on English as a second language. About 460, or 85%, of Cerritos families speak Spanish.
     Franklin Elementary, which had 268 of 455 students classified limited-English proficient in the spring 1998 survey, had very few waiver requests, according to Joanna Junge, coordinator of curriculum and intercultural education.
     Franklin has an after-school instructional program that provides Spanish instruction.
     Franklin purchased textbooks to teach the English language to Spanish speakers prior to the implementation of Proposition 227.
     Approval of the initiative raised questions about what the materials could be used for, but Franklin can now use them in the after-school program and share with other schools, said Franklin Principal Linda Russo Milano.
     "Our Spanish bilingual program was so strong. I'm sorry Unz never visited us," she said of Proposition 227 author Ron Unz.
     District-wide, 13,331 of Glendale Unified's 29,963 students are considered limited-English proficient, according to a spring 1998 Census report. Of these limited-English proficient students, 6,627 are Armenian-speaking, 4,459 are Spanish-speaking and 1,056 are Korean-speaking.
     Year-round schools began Proposition 227 implementation Oct. 26, and the district does not know how many waivers it has received.