More than just English lessons

Prop. 227 funds are paying for English classes that help parents to tutor children, and teach them parenting skills

RUBIDOUX—Maria Castillo struggled nightly to help her second-grader study
spelling and tackle fractions – skills she never learned.

As a child, Castillo was allowed to complete the first grade in
Mexico, but then her father said no more school. As a parent, with
basic skills she could decipher worksheet directions in Spanish and
check to make sure her children completed assignments.

But reading even simple directions became impossible in September
when homework came home all in English, as required by Prop. 227.
California voters passed the proposition in June, ending bilingual
education and requiring that all students be taught overwhelmingly
in English.

“By now you’d think I’d know it (English),” Castillo said through
an interpreter. She said she was embarrassed she hadn’t learned
English despite two decades of living in the United States and
earning citizenship 12 years ago.

Castillo discovered that the new law which left her unable to
help her children with homework also offered an opportunity – she
could sign up for free English classes if she pledged to volunteer
as a community tutor.

Now she and about 60 other mothers with similar backgrounds meet
three afternoons a week to study English, basic reading and math,
and parenting skills at West Riverside Elementary in Rubidoux. Money
set aside by Prop. 227 covers the salaries of two teachers, pays for
day care during the 1 1/2-hour classes and provides workbooks for parents.

Most Inland area schools started organizing their community
tutoring classes this spring using state funding that arrived in
February. A few campuses, like West Riverside in the Jurupa Unified
School District and some Colton elementary schools, got a head

Edda Caraballo, bilingual education consultant for the state
Department of Education, said districts around the state that offer
classes have received overwhelming interest. Although schools are
not required to offer the English tutoring classes, she said most
California districts applied for funds.

“It’s flourishing rather nicely,” she said. “I think the need has
been there, but there hasn’t been the resources. In a few years, I
think this is going to be a really great parent, school, community

California districts receive $50 million a year to run the adult
English classes, which also must include parenting and tutoring

“That’s the key to this thing,” she said. “Part of the law is to
make sure they teach tips and techniques and strategies for tutoring

Several Inland area school districts, like Corona-Norco and
Redlands, are working community-based English tutoring programs into
an existing schedule of English-as-a-second-language classes.
Officials plan to offer classes at various times to accommodate
working parents and at several elementary schools so families do not
have to travel far.

Educators have praised the adult English classes as the good part
of Prop. 227, but also have criticized the requirement that parents
pledge to serve as community tutors because it is tough to regulate.

At West Riverside, parents sign blue cards promising to tutor
local children once they become fluent English speakers.

After a recent class, teacher Aminta Ortega held up a stack of
the cards and said she believes the mothers will fulfill their

“You may think these are empty promises, but I really don’t think
so,” she said. “Not after seeing some of these parents and seeing
their willingness.”

Ortega teaches the West Riverside class with Emma Garza. In
November, they volunteered to start an adult English class. After a
few weeks of working for free, the school found some grant money.
Just as that ran out, the state sent Prop. 227 money.

The two teachers said they would continue running the classes for
no wages. Ortega said she sometimes assumed that when children
didn’t finish their homework, it was because their parents didn’t
care enough to see that it got done.

“When I saw how many parents are so limited themselves, I
realized the child is between a rock and a hard place,” Ortega said.
“They have no one to look to.”

In the spacious classroom tucked away in the rear of the campus,
Garza and Ortega focus on basic English as well as simple addition
and reading skills. On a recent afternoon, they wrote incorrect
sentences like “i is going two school” on the white board and had
the mothers edit them.

They also have discussed writing notes to teachers, gave a mock
standardized test so parents could have the same experience as their
children and helped parents make reading and math games to take
home. Some money paid for extra classroom dictionaries and workbooks
and craft supplies for parents.

About 40 mothers attend each class. Many miss about one class
each week because they hold down part-time jobs or have to take care
of sick toddlers. When it rains, they cover their strollers with
blankets and jog to class.

Ortega and Garza also give advice on carving out time. One woman
said her husband expected his dinner when he arrived home. The
teachers suggested she fix the meal before she leaves for class and
leave instructions on heating it in the microwave.

The work has paid off for the mothers as well as the students,
the teachers said. Students whose mothers take the class develop a
healthy competition with them.

“They’ll say, ‘My mom had the spelling words I had this week’ and
they’re so excited,” Ortega said. “It’s like competition, but good
competition. They’re so proud that their mothers are in the class.”

The result: both parent and child learn.

“They’re helping each other and, at the same time, guess who’s
learning – the first-grader, the third-grader,” Garza said.

At Zimmerman Elementary School in Bloomington, students with
parents in English tutoring class also have made progress, teachers
said. Zimmerman is one of at least five Colton Joint Unified schools
to offer such classes.

The dozen parents enrolled at Zimmerman spend the first hour of
the afternoon sitting next to their children, working on homework.
Teacher Josie Hernandez walks between the desks, answering questions
and giving tips.

During the second hour of the twice-weekly class, the children
run outside for a game of kickball while Hernandez teaches parents
ways to help children learn to read. A handful of parents stay on
campus after Hernandez’s class ends and attend a separate class to
polish their language skills.

Maria Barcelo said that after two months of study, she finds it
much easier to help her children.

“It helps me to answer more difficult questions since I started
the class,” she said.

Barcelo said she looks forward to taking home a small game-like
computer that has math and reading games on it. The school recently
used Prop. 227 money to purchase the units, which look like video
game hardware and hook up to television sets.

Like many parents, she said she wished the classes met longer and
more often. The take-home games lengthen her learning time.

Teachers at both schools said the best advertisement for the
classes has been the parents. They talk with neighbors and show off
their English skills. Soon, another mother comes to class looking
for a safe place to learn.

“A lot of times you’re embarrassed to try and practice,” said
Carolina Muro, who attends the West Riverside class. She said her
husband reads English, but doesn’t like to speak it. So, she makes
her mistakes with a roomful of other English learners and gets help
on her homework from her two boys, ages 9 and 10.

When she started the class in November, she did not know the
English alphabet or numbers. Now, she can hold simple conversations
in English. She helps her sons with their homework and English
skills. They often switch the television off Spanish stations and
watch programs in English.

“I can speak with the kids in English and they understand
better,” she said.

Teaching parents to teach

School districts in Riverside and San Bernardino counties have
received more than $4 million from the state to teach English and
tutoring skills to parents who promise to use their new skills to
help local youngsters. Not every district participated in the
Community-based English tutoring program created by Prop. 227, the
anti-bilingual education initiative. Allocations for Inland area
schools, based on the number of limited-English proficient students,
Riverside County:

# limited-English Dollars

students allocated
Alvord 4,113 156,013
Banning 944 35,807
Corona-Norco 5,245 198,951
Jurupa 4,001 151,764
Lake Elsinore 1,762 66,835
Moreno Valley 6,217 235,821
Murrieta Valley 435 16,500
Nuview 166 6,297
Perris El. 1,473 55,873
Perris Union 339 12,859
Riverside 5,405 205,020
Romoland 369 13,997
San Jacinto 650 24,656
Temecula Valley 766 29,056
Total 50,733 $1,924,383
San Bernardino County:
Colton 3,598 136,478
Fontana 9,133 346,429
Redlands 2,004 76,015
Rialto 5,298 200,961
San Bernardino 9,919 376,243
Total 55,231 2,094,997
Source: California Department of Education

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