Riverside Press-Enterprise

Thursday, September 17, 1998

Students Cope Without Bilingual Teaching
The Lake Elsinore School District has opted to take a literal interpretation of a new law by teaching "overwhelmingly" in English.
By KAMRHAN FARWELL, The Riverside Press-Enterprise

LAKE ELSINORE---A cluster of 5-year-olds singsong letter sounds and make hand signals in unison during Kathleen Harvey's kindergarten class at Machado Elementary School in Lake Elsinore.

"Butterfly, bu, bu, bu," they chant.

Karen Fregoso, a small girl with taut pigtails and wide brown eyes, easily keeps up with the others even though she knows no English.

And the question for her teacher is - does she know what she is saying?

As non-English speaking youngsters returned to Lake Elsinore schools after a break last week, they returned to classes nearly void of Spanish instruction.  The school district has opted to take a literal interpretation of a new law which calls for the end of bilingual instruction and teaching "overwhelmingly" in English.

"Yes, we have chosen to begin the implementation of English, the strictest interpretation of the law," said John Wise, director of administrative services.  "But we won't forget options in the future that may allow us to use primary language instruction. "

Wise said court challenges and request for waivers by 20 or more parents could require the district to pull out its shelved Spanish materials.

Last year, students like Karen would have been taught mainly in Spanish.

But, Prop. 227 ditched the state's 30-year-old bilingual system that started Spanish-speakers in their own language and weaned them to English usually by the third grade.

The controversial initiative was approved by voters in June, upheld in court in July and went into effect Aug. 2.

Lake Elsinore schools, already were in session in July, radically changed their bilingual program before students returned from a month-long break during August.

Most of the district's bilingual programs were at Machado and Elsinore elementary schools with smaller programs at Railroad Canyon and Tuscany Hills elementaries.

Teachers said the change from Spanish language instruction to a fast-track, one-year English immersion program has caused them to rework their lesson plans and ditch many materials.  Unused Spanish text books were sent back to venders.

Maria de Los Angeles Guillen teaches the same second-grade class that she taught to first graders.

Guillen said many of the students were on the verge of reading in Spanish.  Now she is trying to guide them from Spanish words to English while still maintaining some understanding.

Guillen's students still revert to speaking Spanish when discussing ideas of any complexity.  She tries to make learning English a special game and strives to preserve excitement about school.

"You do what you do because you believe in it," Guillen said.

"And you do it from the bottom of your heart and the kids respond to it, whatever it is. "

Harvey, also a teacher at Machado, said she wonders whether her new crew of kindergartners will understand as much of the subject matter as her former students.

She has noticed students are quieter.

"I say a sentence and they don't ask a question, they just repeat it," she said.

She said she uses skills that do not require translation for understanding - music, hand signals, letter sounds rather than words.

Machado principal Marybeth Slane said the school got a jump on the change last year because a school committee had already decided Spanish-speaking students were spending too much time with each other and were not often exposed to their English-speaking peers.

"All of their friends were speaking Spanish and working with other kinds of students wasn't happening," she said.

Slane said rather than clumping all Spanish-speakers into bilingual classes, they decided to spread them among English-speakers in fewer numbers.

At Elsinore Elementary, the shift came more swiftly after the court challenge was put down.

Second-grade teacher Laura Bent says she is at the beginning of the learning curve in terms of dropping Spanish instruction.  During the August break, she took home all her materials and began to build a new yearlong lesson plan.

"Right now we discuss the lesson in English, and if students answer in Spanish, I take whatever language I get," she said.

Teachers and administrators say they are not willing to sacrifice covering the subject material required for each grade level for faster progress in English language skills.

Somehow, they said, they must do it all.

"They have to do more than just learn English," said Elsinore Principal John Schrom.  "To be successful in society, you must have a total education. "