English-immersion era under way as Prop. 227 reaches the classroom

VISTA — Iris Huerta speaks some English, but her first day of second grade at Olive Elementary School promised to test how much.

When asked if she would understand her teacher, the 7-year-old just shrugged.

With gestures as the lingua franca, two North County school districts yesterday kicked off a new school year — and a new era in teaching California’s limited-English speakers.

The passage of Proposition 227 in June means Iris’s teachers will speak overwhelmingly in English. In Vista Unified School District, that means at least 70 percent of the time.

The voter-approved proposition ended most bilingual education in the state’s public schools. Instead, limited-English-speaking students receive a one-year crash course in English backed up by bits of their first language.

Because the measure took effect over the weekend, year-round schools in Vista and Escondido, which started a new school year yesterday, became the first in the county to try to live under it.

Most local schools won’t be affected until classes resume this fall.
The measure will impact 1.4 million students with limited English skills statewide.

The Vista school board is expected Thursday to adopt a plan giving parents one of three classroom options for their limited-English-speaking kids:
70 percent English, English only or bilingual education (parents could seek waivers to keep their children in bilingual programs).

There’s no choice for the first 30 days. Limited-English speakers get the 70 percent option. Then parents are allowed to move their children to other classes.

Iczel Posos, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Washington Middle School in Vista, said she already notices the difference. She gave terse answers to questions during a break, and said this year is more difficult “because it’s mas? (more) English.”

Asked if that meant she’d learn her second language more quickly, she acher.

It wasn’t until Childs showed them by drawing her hand out of a desk and onto its surface that the Spanish speakers followed the directions.

Vista Superintendent Dave Cowles said the new law did not cause any unusual disruptions, though it drew plenty of media attention to the 25,000-student district.

“I think this will be a significant change. I hope that this makes for a quicker transition to (the) English language,” he said.

That would please Maria Rojero. Her 6-year-old daughter, Karina, started an English immersion program last year.

“I don’t understand much English,” Rojero said in Spanish,
“but I don’t want my children to be like me.”

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