RIVERSIDE—Stella Paramo circled around the classroom as the children wrote their names and sketched pictures of themselves.
“Muy bien, Ricky,” she said, complimenting the boy in Spanish.
The work she called “very good” was Ricky Ibarra’s drawing of himself next to Two-Face, Batman’s arch-enemy from this summer’s blockbuster movie.
The children in this class, and the kindergarten room across campus, speak mostly Spanish, with most knowing only a handful of English words. Though visitors would not notice, this Jefferson Elementary School class is not a typical bilingual class.
It is the Riverside Unified School District’s new Spanish Language Bilingual-Biliterate Program.
The district’s standard bilingual program aims to move limited-English students into English-only classes as soon as their skills are strong enough. For students who started in first grade, that usually happens by fourth grade. Jefferson’s program will be different.
Instead of dropping Spanish, the program will maintain it through grade six alongside work in English. Pupils leaving sixth grade should read and write both languages fluently.
“We still want them to be English proficient,” said Jefferson’s Assistant Principal Mandy Garcia-Lopez. “We’ll still be giving them a lot of English. But we are not going to say, ‘Spanish is set aside. ‘ “
District administrators said they hope the voluntary program will ensure academic success in both languages and prepare pupils for living and working in an increasingly diverse society.
The program began Wednesday with about 30 kindergartners and 30 first-graders, amid the tears and nervousness usually associated with the first day of school.
Many pupils live in the Jefferson attendance area, but others live within the boundaries of Adams, Hawthorne and Monroe schools.
Pupils in those areas can receive free busing to Jefferson, Garcia-Lopez said. A second-grade class will begin next July. Grade levels will be added each year until the program reaches grade six.
Jefferson will continue to offer regular education in English and the traditional bilingual program in Spanish.
In the early grades, the program will not look much different from a bilingual education class. Kindergartners will do about 80 percent of their work in Spanish; first graders will do slightly less. But, by the time pupils reach grades four or five – when Spanish would typically be absent – the language will comprise 55 to 60 percent of instruction. The goal for grade six is equal instruction, 50 percent, in both languages.
Administrators stressed that the program does not foster segregation. Pupils throughout the program will share classes such as art, music and physical education with English-speaking pupils outside the program.
“We want them to have a sense that ‘These are my English-speaking buddies,’ ” Garcia-Lopez said.
Similar programs have been effective in San Diego and San Jose, where teachers have discovered that children do better than they would have in transition systems, she said.
Keni Cox, the district’s executive director of instructional services, said the district chose Jefferson because it has many bilingual teachers, has room for students and is located in an area with a significant Spanish-speaking population.
Critics of bilingual education say it wastes money and delays a pupil’s progress toward speaking English. But Cox stressed that the program has succeeded elsewhere and does not abandon English.
“English proficiency is absolutely essential,” Cox said.
“Children in this program will have dual proficiency. “