La Oferta

December 4, 2023

Bilingual education is successful and needed

January 17, 1996

by Yolanda Reynolds

La Oferta Newspaper.

San Jose River Glen Elementary School, Fremont Unified School District and a Long Beach District School were the first recipients of the “Seal of Excellence in Bilingual Education” award.

This award is jointly sponsored by the California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE) and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

CABE is a non profit corporation, established in 1976 by bilingual educators, whose work is to “address the education of English learners” in California. CABE membership is over 4,000 educators. 0ver 8,000 educators attended the three-day conference in San Jose.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, was the conference key note speaker Thursday evening at the San Jose Convention Center. Menchu Tun, from Guatemala is well known for her defense of human rights. She was the first indigenous and youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Prize. Besides speaking Maya, her first language, Menchu Tum taught herself Spanish, which she speaks very well and is now learning English. 500 workshops were conducted during the conference.

Rosalia Salinas, President of CABE, explained that the awards were intended not only to recognize the good work of the teaching and administrative staffs of the three programs, but also to “motivate other school districts to emulate these programs” for student success.

Mary Marquez, the principal of Demonstration School in Long Beach, where a program called PEAKS (Program of Educational Access for Klmer Students) is offered, explained that their program provides for native language maintenance while, at the same time, students develop English proficiency without falling behind in other grade level areas of study.

Marquez explained that the program has realized significant benefits and far more students are making normal progress in their studies than before. Kathy Reich Coordinator of the PEAKS program, explained that student dropouts and failure to learn English promoted the development of this innovative program.

The failure rate was especially alarming since the school population speaking Cambodian is at 10% in the Long Beach District. At Whittier School, where the program is housed, 50% of the students speak Cambodian.

Marquez explained that Cambodian immigration to that area began about 20 years ago and that few students, even after attending school, were more than marginally proficient in English. As adults, they could become employed only in marginally sustainable jobs. Isolation and continued immigration, because of family reunification, has resulted in a continued need for bilingual education in Long Beach.

Senator Dianne Feinstein says, “given the vast ethnic diversity of our great State, it is all too important that we invest in our communities and address the need for bilingual programs and educational opportunities for all.”

The PEAKS program requires that Cambodian speaking teaching para professionals are in the classroom to assist the non-Cambodian speaking credentialed bilingual teachers and to also assist in a community parent outreach program. The PEAKS program is intensive – with ten students per grade level. A special feature of the program is frequent meetings with the parents.

Parent/School interaction is crucial, explained Reich not only, to keep the parents fully informed, but it is also essential in maintaining parental authority. Parent presence on the campus is encouraged. Reich pointed out that, because of the effort to involve parents, parental participation in English classes has greatly increased. Parental support for education is high not only among Cambodian parents, but in the broader community as well. Participating families and their children are less likely to become alienated from each other because of cultural and generational misunderstandings – a problem that often arises when children find themselves taking on the role of translators and advisors to their parents because of their language deficiencies.

PEAKS has demonstrated a successful program and will be adopted at three new school sites in the Long Beach district.

In San lose, the much honored, “Two-way Immersion Program,” offered by the San Jose Unified School District at River Glen in Willow Glen provides monolingual English and monolingual Spanish speaking students an opportunity not only to maintain their own language, but also to become proficient in a second language while, at the same time, making normal progress in their other grade level subjects.

The River Glen program has a unique admissions process that accommodates court ordered desegregation requirements. Enrollment in the program is; 1/3 English speakers, 1/3 bilingual students and 1/3 Spanish speaking. Students and parents are expected to make an eight-year commitment to the program. There is a waiting list of students for the program.

Bilingual education has been controversial since its inception. There are those who sincerely believe that students should undergo total immersion in English only. There are others driven by bigotry who oppose bilingual education. The dispute has gone so far that, in some states, resolutions have been passed to require “English only” as a way to curtail translations, instruction and the use of other languages in public places.

Others, many others, point to the practical reality of efficiently and sensitively educating non-English proficient citizens and U.S. residents.

According to census reports, 23% or 1.2 million public school students in California, are “English learners,” since a language other than English is spoken at home. Fifty nine percent of these students are in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego Counties. In Santa Clara County, slightly less than 49,000 students are “English learners.”

Though there are those who vehemently oppose bilingual education and the “added” cost of the programs, evidence is accumulating that appropriate bilingual education can improve academic success of non-English speakers.

According to a recent academic study the most successful programs provided for two-way immersion programs whereby students learned the target languages (one of which would be English) for their peers.

According to some researchers a student’s success is influenced as much as the parents educational level and extent of the students previous educational experience as program design and mode of instruction.

(Overall parental income and educational achievement of the parents of native English speaking students has a high correlation to student achievement and success.)

In both the River Glen and the PEAKS program parental involvement is both essential and expected. The PEAKS program has encouraged and inspired many Cambodian parents to pursue their own English language classes along with their children’s studies.

Student success is vital when the numbers of “English learners” are considered. The failure to properly educate over 1 million children would have serious economic and social implications for the future of the state.

According to CABE, Standards for Excellence, successful bilingual programs are expected to provide “evidence of student attainment of English language proficiency and academic achievement,” “research driven instruction and curriculum programs,” “primary language instruction. consistent and continuous program instruction from kindergarten through grade six” etc., “continuous staff development and effective parental involvement and leadership development for parents of English learners.”

The PEAKS program, which at one time had only bilingual Cambodian—English speaking aides, now has eleven California credentialed bilingual Cambodian-American teachers. Most of these newly credentialed teachers emerged from the ranks of the District’s own Cambodian speaking teacher’s aides. © La Oferta Newspaper.