December 18, 1993
By Yolanda Reynolds
The Washington at River Glen elementary school celebration “Winter Holidays Around the World”, on last Tuesday evening December 14, demonstrates that learning and a good education is possible in today’s schools.
The celebration included the children from “pre-kinder” to the sixth grade who shared with their parents what they had learned about other peoples of the world. It was a holiday program that asked others to: “juntar sus manos, sus corazones en celebración” of winter holidays from around the world.
Washington at River Glen is a bilingual Spanish/English, total immersion elementary school magnet program the San Jose Uniﬁed School District. It began as a satellite program with just one grade level-prekindergarten at the nearby Washington School. The result was very positive with the students and their parents becoming most enthusiastic about the program. This bilingual immersion program, in six years has grown from one classroom of approximately 30 children to a program that now has over 300 students and many classrooms. There is a long waiting list and it has been moved from Washington Elementary to River Glen School which is located on Bird Avenue.
The student body of Washington at River Glen is diverse.
About 1/3 of the students are native English speakers and European American, another 1/3 are of Mexican/Latino ancestry primarily English speaking and of two or more generations in the United States. The remaining 1/3 are first generation Spanish speaking students from Mexico or other parts of Latin America.
There is no doubt that the school is achieving what it has set out to do: that is make the children truly bilingual and bi-literate. The children sang and spoke in both Spanish and English and spoke without a tell-tale foreign accent in either language.
The Tuesday night program demonstrated the thoroughness with which the students had been exposed, not only to the traditions of other Cultures, but to their own countries of origin and history as well as the history of the particular holiday tradition.
The teachers of the students, besides directing the program that evening, also participated in the singing. The teacher, Steve Hulse, who teaches second grade, even accompanied the songs with his guitar.
Among the many songs traditional to Mexico, Russia, Israel, Germany, Spain, USA and a medley of Native American chants. Songs such as; Jingle Bells in Spanish and a lovely song of International Sign Language entitled “Put your hand in my hand.” This last song, offered in friendship to the audience, has a beautiful line that says, “If you put your hand in my hand, you can be my friend. Hearing this song sung by these very young hopeful children can turn a heart of stone around. For too long the educational needs of children had been taken for granted, especially in this state which was recognized in years past for its almost limitless ﬁnancial support of an education which produced an education system unequaled in the world.
The status of education nationally and in the states is often criticized. Those who are in charge of delivering that education come under severe criticism and are being asked to do more.
A recent Field Poll found that 77% of Californian’s adults are concerned about the status of the State’s public schools. For some it is a top priority and only is edged out by “crime” as a priority concern for older conservative Californians.
Another survey conducted by the Bay Area Council rates concern education low and finds that transportation tales far more concern among bay area residents. The Bay Area council has consistently found transportation of great concern and in recent years worked hard to get the public to adopt a new form of government to deal with its analysis of the transportation problems of the nine county Bay area. The Bay Area Council represents the interests of some very powerful business interests most of whom are based in the city of San Francisco.
A recent article by William Celis III, in the December 9 New York Times entitled, “International Report Card Shows U.S Schools Work”, there is some encouragement. This article tells of a recent study that, in contrast to other dire accounts regarding the status of U.S. schools, found that “American students lag only slightly behind their counterparts around the world in math and science and that a higher percentage of American students get a college education” than in the other countries studied.
This article describes a study conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development based in Paris, France. This is a 33 year old organization concerned with the economics of its member nations. It includes the seven major countries of the world including Canada, the U.S., Great Britain, Germany, France, Japan and Italy as well as other countries of Europe.
Celis reports that U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley says that, even though the report states the U.S. is average… “just being average comes up short in the new global environment.” The article goes on to discuss other findings of the report relative to funding. This is a real concern here, particularly since new reports out of the Governor’s office indicate that the State’s General Fund may be short by $6 – 8 billion dollars for the 1994 – 1995 ﬁscal year. That means that more cuts for education are likely. The Governor has indicated that his priority will be “jailing criminals.”
Putting such ﬁscal concerns and constraints aside, the Washington at River Glen school provides an example of a public school program that is preparing its students for the new global environment.
Learning just one other language gives the learner a number of advantages over the mono-lingual, mono-literate person. Many nuances of a culture are transmitted by language. In addition, learning a third language is made easier and self-esteem is fostered when languages share importance in the curriculum. Further, and as important, is that these students will have an important skill at their command for engaging in any number of activities that will arise as a consequence of the anticipated increase in international trade and exchange.
Washington at River Glen first teacher Marta Morales says that this total immersion bi-lingual program is very successful. She says that, “the self-esteem of the students goes way up.” Morales explains that, unlike other bi-lingual programs that discourage the use of the non-English language (in this case Spanish) this bilingual program recognizes the value of another language and the culture of its speakers. A positive self-esteem encourages academic success.
Many parents speak highly of the school. Tuesday night, the Willow Glen High School cafeteria/performance hall was packed with parents and siblings of the Washington at River Glen student body. The pride of the parents was evident as they sat in the hall, darkened for during performance, waving their hands and even sometimes standing in hopes that somehow their children would be able to see where they were seated in the audience.
The school encourages parents have a sense of community as they left the hall, pleased with their students participation, for a reception that was held in the courtyard after the celebration.
Besides the annual holiday celebration, the school hosts an annual pot luck in the springtime to which the families of students are invited. Each classroom, with help from their parents, is responsible for bringing either a dessert, salad or other food for the school potluck. This second annual gathering is more informal, even though there is also a student talent show at the potluck.
The Principal of Washington at River Glen is Rosa Molina. She has held this position for ﬁve years. Molina says that she is pleased and proud to report that her students performed well in the year end standardized State test that are administered, by grade, District wide. Molina says, that the students are excelling in math and another noticeable result in that the River Glen students become voracious readers – in both languages. She says the school’s focus is on literacy.
There are more schools like Washington at River Glen where dedicated and talented teachers are educating their students very well. It does take the support of a caring and able administration. Washington at River Glen seems to have all of the elements necessary to make it an outstanding elementary school. © La Oferta Newspaper.