Los Angeles Daily News

Tuesday, August 4, 1998

On 1st Day Back, Teachers, Pupils Get Lesson in Prop. 227

On the first day of school at Canoga Park Elementary School, Jesus Hernandez counted from one to 99 in English, while his mother, Gloria, watched with hope tempered by skepticism.

Hernandez, 40, wondered if the new English-immersion program mandated by Proposition 227 would speed her son's mastery of the language, or leave him stranded with neither the language nor the academic skills he needs.

"I have many doubts,'' she said in Spanish. "We're going to see how it works out.''

Feelings of doubt, confusion and hope were shared by many parents and teachers Monday as California's new bilingual-education law went into effect at 50 year-round schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Throughout the district, about 10,000 students with limited English proficiency in year-round schools started new semesters in sheltered English-immersion programs -- the result of the state law that effectively ended bilingual education for California's 1.4 million children who are not fluent in English.

By the end of August, a total of 164 year-round schools will have begun the immersion program, officials said. Other campuses will begin offering the program in September, when most schools start.

Despite threats of civil disobedience by an organization of teachers opposed to the law, district officials said classes seemed to run smoothly Monday.

"We haven't had any reports of any major problems,'' LAUSD spokesman Pat Spencer said.

Under the new law, passed by 61 percent of voters, schools are required to teach non-native speakers in a one-year English-immersion program. Students who already know English, are 10 years old or older, or those who have special needs can receive a waiver.

Officials said they didn't know how many waivers parents had requested on the first day of the program. However, students must remain in the English-immersion program for at least 30 days before leaving.

Although teachers are optimistic about the ultimate success of the program, they must scramble to assemble teaching materials in English, first-grade teacher Karen Berg and other faculty members said.

Last month, the Board of Education approved a request by Superintendent Ruben Zacarias for $1 million in start-up costs and teacher training for the English-immersion programs.

But the first teacher-training seminars aren't scheduled until Aug. 20 and 21 -- too late for teachers who headed back to class Monday.

On Monday, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin announced the formation of a Proposition 227 task force to help districts understand how to implement the law.

In the Los Angeles Unified district, there are an estimated 312,000 students with limited English-proficiency. Of those, about 100,000 have been enrolled in bilingual education and will be eligible for English-immersion programs, Spencer said.

At Canoga Park Elementary on Monday, where 80 percent of students have limited proficiency in English, Berg led her class in reading aloud a list of English words such as ball, bed, bus, bike and boat.

But they counted numbers of objects from a work sheet with instructions in Spanish.

Maria Dolores Rojas, 30, whose 6-year-old daughter, Alejandra, is in the same class as Jesus Hernandez, said young children will benefit from the aggressive new approach.

"For them it's good,'' she said in Spanish. "Because they're little, they can learn quickly.''

But Pedro Diaz, 33, whose 6-year-old daughter, Leslie, is also in first grade at the school, said he worries she'll be left behind by the accelerated program.

"It's traumatic,'' he said. "At my house, we only speak Spanish. To learn English is very difficult. They need more time for training in English. They need probably two, three years.''

In the Los Angeles district, parents have a range of four options. Children can enroll in mainstream classes, one of two English-immersion programs known as Model A and Model B, or opt out of the program entirely by obtaining a waiver and enrolling in traditional bilingual-education programs.

In the Model A program, instructors teach entirely in English and parent volunteers or teaching aides help children in their native language.

The Model B program requires instructors to teach lessons mainly in English, but allows for the use of students' primary language to clarify questions or give overviews of lessons.