Foreign Students Dive Into English

Pilot Program Tests Immersion

Sitting in the Wallington High School library, 40 students, most
from Poland, sang”This Land is Your Land,”talked about California
redwoods, and watched a video on getting directions.

They appeared to be taking a crash course in American civics, but
the singing, role-playing, and grammar exercises Thursday were all part
of a $ 30,000 pilot program called Language Immersion.

The program, the first of its kind in New Jersey, is a three-week
crash course conducted completely in English. Its goal is to smooth the
students transition into mainstream classes.

“This will allow non-English-speaking students to quickly
assimilate,”Superintendent Frank A. Cocchiola said.”If these kids get
comfortable with their surroundings and more socially involved, it will
add to the efficiency of the entire class. Learning will improve.”

Students, gathered after one of the hour-long sessions, agreed that
the program has helped them. The teenagers, most of whom have been in
the United States for about a year, said their vocabularies have
expanded and they have gained the confidence to navigate the daily
challenges most Americans take for granted.

“I talk about anything since I know the language,”said Agnes
Sidol, 12.”It makes me feel comfortable.”

“It’s cool,” chimed in her twin sister, Anna.”You can ask someone
for help if you need to…. We can talk to everybody, and teachers
will understand us.”

Supporters of the program, including Assemblyman Paul DiGaetano,
R-Passaic, who lobbied with Assemblyman John V. Kelly, R-Nutley, to
include money for it in the state budget, said Language Immersion could
reduce the need to offer academic classes in foreign tongues.

“I don’t think this will replace bilingual education,”said
DiGaetano, who with Kelly visited the class Thursday.”But it will
allow students to move through bilingual classes quicker. Instead of
three years, maybe students could get out in one year.”

The state’s Bilingual Education Act of 1974 requires schools in
many cases to offer classes in a student’s native language. But as the
number and variety of such students has skyrocketed over the past two
decades, many district officials have asked for relief.

The state Department of Education often has agreed to loosen the
requirements, issuing waivers that allow districts to substitute less
expensive programs.

Now, 35 of the state’s 595 school districts offer full-time
programs in which large numbers of children receive education in their
native language.

Wallington is not among them. Instead, it offers 240 of its 1,230
students classes in English as a second language.

Some legislators sought to require more districts to offer
native-languages classes, but others blocked the effort, arguing that
the programs were too expensive and that children are better served by
English immersion.

The program at Wallington High School, being run by Berlitz
Language Centers, uses the program’s technique of teaching students to
listen, speak, read, and write English all at once. Repetition also is a
key element.

Instructors use role-playing games, videos, and instruction
booklets to teach English, and they encourage students to listen to the
radio and watch television to practice what they have learned. The
course is taught in English, and students are discouraged from speaking
in their native tongues.

The goal, instructor Stephanie Jump said, is to make students
proficient in the language so they feel comfortable approaching teachers
about a problem or making new friends.

Eight days into the program, Jump said she already has seen drastic
change in her students. She said they are more expressive in class and
have replaced their initial glum silence with chatter and laughter.

“I have seen their personalities come out,”Jump said. “They
started like crickets, but now they are singing. I’m constantly blown
away by their progress.”

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