$ 2.6 million grant funds bilingual programs

Money will be used, in part, to create educational materials for Hmong.

A $ 2.6 million federal grant to boost Fresno Unified’s bilingual education
program didn’t come a moment too soon for first-grade teacher Xe Moua.

The three-pronged grant will allow the district, among other things, to develop teaching materials in Hmong — a language in which have few written materials are available.

Educators like Moua must rely largely on oral instruction when teaching Hmong-speaking children.

“There is just a handful of story books and that is about it,” Moua said. “What I have, I have developed myself or translate from English and that can be really time consuming.”

That could change with the new federal money.

Rose Patron, the district’s multilingual, multicultural coordinator, said a portion of the five-year grant — about $ 53,000 the first year — will enable the district to create new teaching materials and translate those already in the classroom.

Patron said the district can’t simply buy textbooks in Hmong because few, if any, exist.

The grant will also provide for districtwide staff training and the creation of a two-way immersion program at Leavenworth Elementary School.

The highly touted immersion method teaches groups of English- and non-English-speaking students together so that both groups become fluent and literate in each others’ language.

The two groups of students are clustered for at least six school grades. They are initially taught in the native language of the non-English speakers. The two languages are used with greater frequency as the students progress through the grades.

Earlier this month, Fresno Unified received $ 1 million from the federal Department of Education for a two-way immersion program at Sunset Elementary.

At Leavenworth, Principal Glenna Encinas said the program will be unique for its use of technology and its partnership with the University of California Educational Research Center.

Dennis Sayer, a center researcher, will study the program as he helps teach an English class.

Leavenworth’s technology will help it patch into other U.S. classrooms using the two-way program.

“We really want to enhance the students’ opportunity to learn technology and to become fluent and literate in another language,” Encinas said. “We are going to be making the connection with this program.”

Patron said districts across the country are exploring the two-way program as a way to increase the overall academic performance of limited-English-speaking students and students in general.

Studies show that students in such programs achieve at a higher level than those in non-immersion programs. And learning an additional language helps sharpen critical-thinking skills, researchers say.

“We want to ensure that all students have access to a rigorous core curriculum,” Patron said. “But if you teach a child Algebra in English and they don’t speak that language, then you are not providing them access.”

Infobox — Where it goes

Fresno Unified’s $ 2.6 million federal grant will help meet the needs of the district’s limited English speaking population. Approximately one-third of the district’s 78,000 students are limited English speakers. The top three non-English languages spoken are: Spanish, 11,500; Hmong 9,050 and Lao at 2,000.

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