San Jose Mercury News

Sunday, December 13, 1998

Vietnamese Bilingual Plan Lauded
Bilingual education still taught

Hoa Wong's second-grade students are playing a flash-card game, smiling, shouting out answers and applauding regardless of who wins each duel.

But this is no ordinary classroom scene. The words on Wong's flashcards are all in Vietnamese, her children are all ethnic Vietnamese and the class is being held long after the regular school day has ended.

Wong and her students at Parkview School in San Jose are taking part in Project ABLE, a bilingual program that has accomplished a rare feat: It's endorsed by both bilingual advocates and Ron Unz, author of the anti-bilingual initiative, Proposition 227. The program, sponsored by the Oak Grove School District, also won a Golden Bell award from the California School Boards Association this month.

``Offhand, it sounds like a very good program,'' Unz said. ``I think it would be a very good thing if more programs like that were set up around the state.''

Project ABLE is an attempt to make Parkview's approximately 100 native Vietnamese speakers fluent and literate in both English and their native language. What sets it apart from most bilingual programs is the fact that it adds both after-school and Saturday classes to the school's regular schedule.

There are signs the program is working. District officials say children enrolled in Project ABLE have fared better than other limited-English-speakers on test scores, and they have become fluent in English more quickly.

The program employs Parkview teachers, who stay after school for an extra hour three days a week then come back for three hours every Saturday morning. The additional lessons focus on teaching children to read and write in Vietnamese. They read stories, sing songs and play games, all in Vietnamese.

Many of the students who come into the program speak Vietnamese at home with their parents but do not know how to read or write the language. Some of their parents are literate in Vietnamese, but not all of them, Wong says. She tells of a first-grader who has progressed so rapidly in the program that she is now teaching her mother how to read and write the language.

Oak Grove started Project ABLE three years ago to serve Parkview's growing number of limited-English-speaking Vietnamese students. The program initially began with the after-school program. After the district received federal grants, it expanded to include the Saturday school as well.

Last year, the program involved students from kindergarten to sixth grade. But it was scaled back this year to just first- through fourth-grade students because of budget cuts.

A similar program has been introduced in Blossom Valley School.

Of Parkview's 631 students, 150 are ethnic Vietnamese. About half of them are designated as having a limited proficiency in English. But about 100 Vietnamese students participate in the after-school program, which is open to all students.

About 40 Parkview students also take part in the Saturday school, which includes students from other district schools.

In past years, about 20 percent of Project ABLE's regular class instruction was conducted in Vietnamese. But the school switched to all-English instruction during regular hours this year to comply with the Unz initiative. Teachers use gestures and pictures to help children understand English words and concepts.

In the lower grades, the school also tries to group the limited-English-speaking Vietnamese students together and provide those students with a teacher who understands their language.

Parents are expected to make a significant commitment to the project. They must provide transportation for children to and from classes. And although the after-school part of the program is free, parents have to pay $50 to enroll their kids in the Saturday school.

Parents often provide teachers with after-school snacks and raise funds for the program.