Reseda High School junior Napoleon Olarte started his fall semester Wednesday with classes in English as a second language.
Karla Martinez, a Reseda high sophomore, is tackling a world history course taught in Spanish — the only language she fully understands.
And Anouar Benami, who grew up speaking Arabic, began his school year in so-called sheltered English, classes for students just getting a grip on the language.
The students represent the melange of bilingual programs in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where about 295,000 students — 46% of the student body
— speak little or no English. These limited-English speakers face a tougher struggle than most students seeking to earn a high school diploma. And as they begin the 1995-96 school year, they also have a new worry.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole on Monday joined a growing national movement calling for an end to bilingual education, saying students should be taught subjects only in English. Dole, the leading candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, said further that English should be the nation’s official language.
That campaign position didn’t go over well at Reseda High.
“We need support,” said Olarte, who said he wants to be a civil engineer. “If they give us the opportunity to come here and be successful, they also have to help us learn the language.”
As the school year opened at 280 campuses in the nation’s second-largest district this week, thousands of youngsters began learning their first words in English, most in bilingual classes.
At Nevada Avenue Elementary School in Canoga Park, for example, about 390 of the school’s 500 students who began the school year on Wednesday do not speak fluent English. Some of the students, in fact, had never been in a U.S. school before, said Nevada Principal Tom Stevens. Good teachers are essential for the bilingual classes, which are designed for students to learn their subjects as they gradually learn English, Stevens said.
At Reseda High, about 137 students transferred out of bilingual classes after becoming proficient in English. While administrators applaud the combined efforts of the students and their teachers, they lament the fact that the school now loses $242 in special bilingual funding for each student who masters English.
“We should be rewarded, not punished for moving these kids,” said Linda Rosenberg, the bilingual coordinator at Reseda.
Instead of abolishing bilingual education, Rosenberg said, politicians such as Dole should be looking for ways to increase support.
“I don’t think most politicians understand the research behind the philosophy of a bilingual program,” she said. “The research has shown if you are illiterate in your home language, it is very difficult to learn a second language” such as English.
Teachers at the school use different styles to overcome the language barrier.
Standing at the front of his classroom with posters in English and Spanish on the walls, language teacher Aaron Andrade explained that he teaches only in English for his students, who speak Russian, Hungarian, Vietnamese and Spanish.
“It’s pure English in here,” he said. “They learn. I don’t translate for anybody.”
Meanwhile, however, Richard Morin, who teaches history to students with only limited English, said he sometimes will break into his native language — Spanish — if he sees students are having difficulty understanding.
“I do feel we should be speaking English as soon as possible,” said Morin, who began his first full-time teaching job on Wednesday. “But when I get that look — that a kid isn’t understanding me — I speak in Spanish.”
Besides discussion of the debate over bilingual education, Reseda High had its share of more pressing first-day-of-school problems.
“Mr. Kladifko,” shouted English teacher Sandra Ulrich to Principal Bob Kladifko shortly after third period. “I have a crisis. I don’t have enough chairs.”
Ulrich had 44 students sign up for the Advanced Placement course, and only 40 desks.
Then Kladifko heard that clerks were sending students home for failing to pay book and other school fines. “Don’t send them home,” he said into his walkie-talkie. “We want kids here.”
Nearly half of the students in the Los Angeles Unified School District either do not speak English or have a limited command of the language. Here are the top five languages in which these students are fluent: l. Spanish: 270,054 2. Armenian: 5,522 3. Korean: 4,104 4. Cantonese: 2,453 5. Plipino: 2,356
Note: 295,001 students, or 47% of the students in the LAUSD, consider English a second language.