At Valley View Elementary School in south Phoenix, Alicia Moreno started her day by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in English and Spanish.
The rest of the day Alicia took classes that emphasized learning to read,
write and speak in two languages. Art class, for example, was taught in English; math in Spanish. And when it comes to conversing with friends,
Alicia doesn’t favor one language over the other.
“When we feel like it, we speak English. When we feel like it, we speak Spanish,” said Alicia, 10.
She is afraid, however, that the bilingual education she is receiving soon may be cut.
That’s why she joined about 75 people who rallied at the state Capitol on Thursday in opposition to a campaign to abolish bilingual education in Arizona.
Last week, a group called English for the Children submitted petitions bearing 165,000 signatures with the Secretary of State’s Office supporting a Nov. 7 ballot initiative that asks voters to ban bilingual education.
The group says the state’s 30-year-old bilingual education system is a failure that is preventing many immigrant children, especially foreign-born Hispanics, from adequately learning English, and therefore limits their chances for success. They want to replace bilingual education with an immersion program that would require all students with limited English skills to spend a year in a classroom where only English is taught.
But bilingual education supporters such as Cynthia Chavarria, Alicia’s mother, say the initiative would deny the choice to place children in bilingual education programs.
“It will open up doors for job opportunities not only here but abroad,” said Chavarria, explaining why she wants her daughter to continue receiving bilingual education at school.
Some people at Thursday’s rally wore pins that said, “Bilingual education is beautiful.”
At the rally, Alejandra Sotomayor characterized the English for the Children group as the political mouthpiece for multimillionaire Ron Unz of California. Unz, who was instrumental in ending bilingual education in his home state two years ago, has contributed $100,000 to the English for the Children campaign in Arizona. Sotomayor is a curriculum specialist for the Tucson Unified School District and board member of English Plus More, a political action group formed to fight the initiative.
Sotomayor said she reviewed 1,000 random signatures submitted by the English for the Children group and found that “100 percent were gathered by paid circulators, not a grass-roots movement.”
And contrary to claims that the English for the Children group has widespread support among Hispanics, Sotomayor said she counted 56 Hispanic surnames among the signatures she sampled from the Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff areas.
“This is not an Hispanic movement,” she said. “It is a paid political movement with a few Hispanics up front,” she said.
Reach the reporter at Daniel.Gonzalez@ArizonaRepublic.com or (602) 444-8312.