Los Angeles Times
Saturday, September 26, 1998
Parents Overwhelmingly Request Bilingual Classes
Hueneme: Teachers say they look forward to communicating with
their limited-English speaking students after weeks of frustration.
By KATE FOLMAR,
Times Staff Writer
When opponents of bilingual education in California started pushing
for its demise, they probably didn't envision what is happening in the
Hueneme school district.
A month into the implementation of Proposition
227, the parents of nearly all of Hueneme's students who speak little or
no English have said: No gracias.
After 30 days of watching their children
struggle with instruction conducted overwhelmingly in English, the parents
of about 3,400 students in the Hueneme Elementary District have asked for
a retooled bilingual program.
The decision was a natural one, many Ventura
County teachers argued Friday at a bilingual education conference; how
else should parents respond to the vacant expressions, boredom and frustration
of children trying to learn math, science, reading and more in a foreign
"When we informed parents of their options,"
to seek a waiver from so-called sheltered English-immersion classes, "and
they made an educated, informed choice for the future of their children,
you could see the empowerment in their faces," said Jackie Villanueva,
a third-grade teacher at Hueneme's Larsen Elementary.
Overwhelmingly supported by voters, Proposition
227 was designed to dismantle bilingual education.
Under the new state law, limited-English
speakers are to receive one year of English-immersion instruction and then
go directly into mainstream classes. The law allows parents, in special
circumstances, to place their children into traditional bilingual programs
after 30 days in the English classes.
Supporters of the measure contended that
only a small fraction of parents would seek such waivers--not, as in the
Hueneme district, the parents of more than 99% of the limited-English speakers.
In practice, Ventura County teachers say
the law offers more flexibility than they had previously suspected. Although
many still feel the law will do more harm than good, they say they are
learning to live with it.
Or learning to skirt it, if you ask Sheri
Annis, spokeswoman for English for the Children, the Los Angeles-based
group that backed the new law, which was promoted by Silicon Valley software
entrepreneur Ron K. Unz.
Annis contends that Ventura County educators
are abusing the law, making bilingual education one entree on a menu of
educational options. The waivers should be used only for those children
who have specific educational difficulties that prevent them from learning
English quickly, she said.
"It seems like Ventura County has forgotten
that Proposition 227 actually passed and the election is over," said
Annis, who contends bilingual educators' conferences should be obsolete
Waivers should be granted to just 1% or 2%
of limited-English students, she said.
That formula doesn't work in the classroom,
according to many participants at Friday's conference.
Haycox Elementary's Irma Melgoza-Vasquez
described the first 30 days of school as a useless prelude to real education.
Almost all of her school's students are now learning in bilingual classes
after parents signed waivers.
"It was frustrating for the first weeks,"
she said. "The kids couldn't understand what was going on and you'd
lose at least a quarter of the class. . . . Today was the first day I could
teach reading in Spanish, and the kids were so excited as I passed out
their books. They cheered, 'Yea!' "
Kelly Ruff, who teaches second grade at Ocean
View's Tierra Vista Elementary, said the first few weeks of her class,
conducted in English, were necessarily heavy on art, music and physical
education. Addressing the core subjects was almost impossible when students
could not understand her.
"At this age, I feel reading and writing
are so important--I feel like I'm kind of depriving the kids," sighed
Ruff, who anticipates that most of her parents will sign waivers allowing
her to teach in both Spanish and English. "It's hard to face that
we're going to have to do this year after year. I'd rather start with bilingual--and
with real content--right away."
Not all the teachers at the conference were
vehemently opposed to Proposition 227, though.
Anne Trejo, an English facilitator at Thousand
Oaks' Walnut School, said students who were taught in their native tongue
for too long fell behind too.
"The more English a child hears, the
more English he gets," said Trejo, who conducts special lessons for
students who hail from Mexico, Vietnam, India and Russia.
"The important thing is these kids learn
English," she said. "It's a survival skill. The home language
is very important too--the parents have to make sure they don't lose it."