City touts bilingual curriculum San Jose officials discuss communitywide effort

It takes an entire community to teach a child. And that’s exactly what the city of San Jose, Calif., is doing.

At the National Association for Bilingual Education conference in Denver on Thursday, officials from the Alum Rock Union Elementary School District in San Jose talked about how they’ve teamed up with businesses, area universities, community groups and governmental agencies to provide non-English-speaking students with a quality, multicultural education and opportunities.

The program, which involves six San Jose school districts, is funded with a $ 25 million federal grant and community donations.

Offering programs ranging from nutrition and parenting classes to disease prevention and assistance with college tuition, the program was launched in 1996 to lower high school dropout rates and encourage and help more students get into college.

“We need to stop looking at bilingual education as one model that fits all,” said Roberto Cruz of the National Hispanic University, emphasizing the unique ways districts and communities can join forces to address the needs of non-English-speaking students.

In one program, the Alum Rock district, which is 75 percent minority with 48 percent of the students speaking little or no English, encouraged local vendors to donate about $ 50,000 for a back-to-school festival.

Hundreds of students, parents and teachers participated. “Different kids learn differently,” Cruz said.

Among the many opportunities available:

The San Jose Museum of Art offers an Artists in Residence program in which students receive weekly art classes for 10 weeks.

A program through San Jose State University provides instructional support and tutoring for children in kindergarten through third grade.

The Stanford Center for Research in Disease Prevention and Stanford Hospital developed a cancer and cardiovascular disease prevention program targeting preadolescents in schools serving predominantly low-income Hispanic families.

As a way to give more Hispanic students the opportunity to go to college, San Jose’s National Hispanic University holds workshops for 200 high school seniors
– guaranteeing enrollment in the university for each student who completes the workshop.

More than 6,000 educators are in Denver for the NABE conference, which runs through Saturday at the Colorado Convention Center.

San Jose and Denver both have a high percentage of Hispanic and non-English-speaking students, and both have grappled with the controversial issue of how to teach students who don’t speak English.

One way San Jose school officials tried to improve the reading and writing skills of their non-English-speaking students was to consider their students’ culture.

Recognizing that their Spanish-speaking students were predominantly from three Mexican states, they sent teachers on trips to those areas.

The teachers became more familiar with their students’ customs and students were more appreciative of a teacher who could relate to them.

“We were looking to reconnect our kids back with their language and culture in Mexico,” said Santiago Wood, an official with the Alum Rock school district. “We put the dollars in the greatest number of kids (Hispanics) to get the biggest bang for our dollars.”

Patricia Loera, NABE’s associate director for legislation, warned of pending legislation at the federal level that could have an impact on bilingual education nationwide.

She said Congress will consider measures to limit bilingual education to two to three years. In addition, the way funding for bilingual education is distributed also could change.

Federal money that now directly funds bilingual education may be allocated in block grants to the states, thereby adding a “middle man” of sorts and creating another level on which the controversial issue can be debated. “That’s very dangerous,” Loera said.

On Saturday, a group of Denver parents called Padres Unidos (United Parents) will receive the NABE Citizen of the Year Award at the conference.

Padres Unidos has been instrumental in advocating for better bilingual education in Denver Public Schools.

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