The Jefferson Elementary School is looking for a few kindergarten
students who speak English but want to learn Spanish.
In Santa Ana Unified, where 90 percent of students are Hispanic
and 75 percent speak limited English, native speakers of English are
an endangered species.
They are especially valuable now at Jefferson, which seeks 15
English-speaking kindergarteners to maintain a dual-language
immersion program that depends for its success on students who speak
the two languages.
“We’re finding less and less English-only speakers in this area,”
said Jefferson Principal Pam Mayle, who is encouraging students to
enroll before classes start Sept. 7. “Anything less than 50-50
(English and Spanish speakers) and the program gets watered down.”
In the dual-language program, kindergarten and first-grade
children spend 90 percent of the day learning in Spanish and 10
percent in English. By fifth grade, the students spend half their
time learning in each language. The mix of native languages is
vital, teachers say, because students reinforce classroom language
lessons with conversations on the playground or after school.
Jefferson parents said they enrolled their children in the dual-
language program because they believe in the benefits of being
“You’re giving your children an opportunity you never had, and it
doesn’t cost you a penny,” said Kaye Colon, whose daughter Laurel is
learning Spanish. “I think it’s sad that more people in America
don’t learn other languages.”
Many of the English-speaking students would attend other schools
if Jefferson didn’t offer the dual-language program.
“That’s the only reason she goes to school in Santa Ana,” Pat
Morales-Martinez, a resident of Orange, said of her daughter Ruby, 7.
“She would probably go to school in English here and I’d foster her
Spanish at home.”
For Laurel Iwaki, 6, the dual-language program keeps open the door
to understanding her mother’s Spanish-speaking background and her
father’s English-language roots.
“She was born with two wings,” Laurel’s mother, Gloria Iwaki, a
native of Mexico and former elementary school teacher, said in
Spanish. “By learning the two languages in school, she can take
More than 30 other California schools offer similar dual-language
programs, including Las Palmas Elementary School in San Clemente and
Gates Elementary in Lake Forest. But the other Orange County schools
face the opposite demographic problem as Jefferson: a waiting list of
English speakers and a dearth of Spanish speakers.
National studies have found that dual-language immersion benefits
students in their academic, cognitive and social development. But it
helps some students more than others.
An analysis of test scores at Gates Elementary, for example, shows
clear benefits of the dual-language program for native English
speakers, who consistently outscore the national average in reading,
math and other tests. But progress was less dramatic among students
whose first language was Spanish, as measured by test scores and the
rate of becoming fluent in English.
That data fueled criticism among critics of bilingual education,
who view dual-immersion programs as an attempt to circumvent the
mandate to teach in English, under Proposition 227. Gloria Matta
Tuchman, the Santa Ana teacher who helped write Prop. 227, said the
education of Spanish speakers often suffers in dual immersion.
“I hope they aren’t setting these kids up for failure or using
them as guinea pigs,” said Tuchman, a Republican candidate for
Congress next year. “We have enough problem getting test scores up
in English. Why should we try to teach them in another language?”
For more information on the Jefferson dual-immersion program, call