Orange County Register

Thursday, June 4, 1998

Voters' Will Saddens Teacher
EDUCATION: It's a day of dejection at a Santa Ana school in the wake of Prop. 227's resounding passage.
By AGUSTIN GURZA, The Orange County Register

Bilingual teacher Rosario Zourelli didn't open her morning paper Wednesday as usual. She knew the news this day would be bad for bilingual education, so she coudn't bear to look.

She was so dejected she skipped her daily cup of coffee. She left the paper on her Costa Mesa doorstep and headed to work at Pio Pico Elementary School in the heart of Santa Ana, where 100 percent of the students are Hispanic and 90 percent are learning English.

It was lunch hour before she saw the front page news about Tuesday's victory of Proposition 227, the initiative that cuts bilingual education programs in California. In a school office, an administrator had an Internet edition of The Orange County Register on his computer with a picture of a beaming Gloria Matta Tuchman, the Santa Ana teacher who co-sponsored the initiative.

"Another reason not to read it," Zourelli huffed with with contempt for her colleague.

"It's been a sad day," she said, swallowing her feelings and struggling for composure. "I feel a choice has been taken away from me as a parent. ... I worry about the kids."

Though Prop. 227 was expected to pass, the reality of the electorate's choice settled on the little, all-Hispanic campus with a disheartening thud.

Staff and students in schools throughout the heavily Hispanic district stuck to a normal schedule Wednesday. Pio Pico's principal, Judy Magsaysay, and other administrators spent the morning at a mandatory workshop on sexual harrassment, scheduled weeks earlier.

Magsaysay sat next to Superintendent Al Mijares, who fielded impromptu questions from his staff about what the district will do next.

The answer: Wait and see.

"I'm not prepared to implement the demolition of our entire instructional program," said Magsaysay. Like Mijares, Magsaysay is concerned that the new law strips local schools of authority over their classrooms. They are no longer free to decide what's best for the students. That choice is being made, she said, by voters far from this "linguistically segregated" neighborhood.

Fernando Duran, the assistant principal who had the newspaper on his computer, questioned the wisdom of having instructional policy set by voters, some of whom don't even have children in school.

"How do I feel? Well, sad," said Duran, an immigrant from Spain. "All that we have worked for here is in jeopardy."

Upstairs in Betsy Perez's third-grade class, students continued to work in both languages. Perez, a Cuban immigrant, instructed her students to pair up and read from an advanced English text on dinosaurs.

"A ver, a ver. Donde vas? Olivia Garcia, 8, asked her partner. "Let's see. Where did you leave off?"

Then Olivia breezed through the reading: "Even today, digging up dinosaurs is not easy."

Perez said she teaches students in Spanish when they have to understand more complex concepts like the solar sytem. She says she sees too many students struggle with their lessons in straight immersion classes.

"It concerns me to see choices taken away from parents, especially coming as I do from Cuba, a country where choice is restricted in so many ways."

Pio Pico teachers said the students were concerned and confused, too. Some asked about the new bilingual ban as soon as the school day started. Claudia Aceves, 9, knew the vote results (61 percent yes, 39 percent no) from watching "Voto 98" on Spanish TV.

"I felt kind of sad, because I don't want them to take bilingual education away," she said.

"I want to talk both languages because I feel more comfortable like that."