Learning English Together

EDUCATION: Spanish-speaking parents say ESL classes help communication with their bilingual kids.

Maria Rosales usually cleans two houses a day.

But on Mondays and Wednesdays, the Spanish speaker cleans only one home so she can get to her English class at Gates Elementary School.

“I couldn’t speak in complete sentences,” Rosales said. “But more than that, I couldn’t help my kids with their English homework.”

The mother of three is among a growing number of Spanish-speaking parents who are tired of turning to their bilingual children to translate everything from newspapers to report cards.

The state is accommodating parents like Rosales. While schools cannot offer bilingual education in the classroom, they are opening up more

ESL classes geared toward parents.

Proposition 227, which mandates that virtually all instruction for children be in English, also allocated about $50 million for schools statewide to create more adult language courses.

One catch ? parents and others who take the free classes have to pledge to tutor one limited-English student.

In Orange County, 21 school districts received about $5 million in Prop. 227 money in January. Santa Ana Unified received the most: $1.4 million. Saddleback Valley Unified, which pays for the courses at Gates, received $80,000.

Judy Lambert of the California Board of Education said the majority of the state’s 105 English immersion programs now offer the classes.

Most of the adults who are taking English classes have children in the school’s dual-language immersion program. Under a waiver from Prop. 227, about 350 Spanish-speaking and English-speaking students in the program are taught in Spanish in the early grades, with increasing amounts of English added in later years.

Many parents at Gates Elementary say they want to become bilingual like their children. Learning the language, they say, has made them a part of their children’s education.

Parents become students in class. They squeeze into child-size desks and wear nametags.

No Spanish is spoken here.

Parents chat in English. They also read out loud from daily journals, in which they record when they speak English.

Next door, their kids wait, passing the two hours with homework.”They’re becoming role models for their kids,” teacher Deanna Malek said. “By being here, they show they care about learning too.”

Nacir Dominguez agrees. The third-grade immersion student smiles when talking about his mother understanding him speak English.

“My mom knows what I’m saying now,” Dominguez said. “We speak two languages at home.”

Claudia Dominguez recalls asking neighbors to help Nacir with homework. Now, Nacir’s mother does more than just learn English ? she talks about it. Last month, she and a few other Gates parents spoke to hundreds at the California Association of Bilingual Education in Los Angeles.

“I went from having my son translate TV shows for me to speaking to hundreds of people about learning English,” Dominguez said.

Gates’ classes, offered for the past two years, have grown in popularity. Attendance is full, with a handful of parents waiting until summer to take the next class.

Rosales says she’ll keep plugging away at her English until she earns a high school eqivalency diploma. Then, she plans to quit cleaning houses and teach elementary school.

“There’s more to learn here than English,” Rosales said. “Even though I’m older, I know that if I want to do it, I can do it.”

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Register news researcher Sally Doyle contributed to this report.



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