Nestor school receives statewide bilingual honor

Sometimes it’s as simple as choosing between “Hello” and “Hola” on the playground. But these pupils consider learning two languages an edge that’s going to pay off later in life.

Shannon Roberts, 10, a fifth-grader who’s been studying Spanish for five years, said she might be the one to take that call in Spanish that turns into a million-dollar business deal, and, “I’m getting a really nice gold house.”

Her school will be honored today as one of the top bilingual education schools in the state. The California Association of Bilingual Education,
is bestowing its highest award — the Seal of Excellence — on Nestor Elementary School at its annual conference in San Jose. CABE is giving Nestor the award for its Language Academy that teaches both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking pupils in two languages. Of the 1,000 pupils at Nestor, about 400 have enrolled in the Language Academy,
which employs a language strategy known as dual immersion. English speakers and Spanish speakers are put in the same class starting in kindergarten. The first year is 90 percent Spanish, 10 percent English,
and by the time the pupils get promoted to middle school, their day is half English and half Spanish.

Most of the pupils are from the neighborhood, but some come from Eastlake, Chula Vista, Bonita, San Ysidro and Point Loma, primarily for the chance to learn Spanish.

The dual-immersion classrooms have posters on the walls in Spanish and English, but not necessarily side-by-side translations. For example, in the sixth-grade classroom of teacher Oralia Nabizadeh, there are posters for “antonimos” and “sinonimos” on a language arts section of a wall,
and other walls have English language displays on the metric system and ancient civilizations.

Those who aren’t in the dual-immersion program at Nestor choose either English-only instruction or traditional bilingual education in which the majority of the instruction is done in Spanish.

The CABE award doesn’t come with money, said Assistant Principal Phyllis Munoz, but it’s an important validation of the work being done at Nestor.

The educators at Nestor believe bilingualism is a great choice for families.

“When you take a look at the world we live in, the society we live in,
the need to have more than one language is crucial to your understanding,” Munoz said. “When you learn another language and when you learn about the culture that that language is a part of, it expands your perspective.”

But the outside validation helps, particularly in the current climate.
In 1998 the state’s voters approved a ballot proposition to ban bilingual education. That same year the state rolled out a series of mandatory tests in English that puts pressure on educators to teach English more quickly to improve test scores and qualify for reward money
— or to avoid sanctions.

And because of an accounting squabble with the state, South Bay Union School District’s bilingual charter school — not really a school at all but a few classrooms at each of the district’s 12 schools, including Nestor — is in jeopardy of closing.

The pupils in Nestor’s Language Academy just know they like learning two languages.

When it was time to choose a school, Shannon remembered, “My dad asked if I wanted to learn a second language. I said, ‘Sure.’ Of course, I was 4 years old.”

Over the years, it helped Rina Tilbe, 11, save her grandmother from a neighborhood feud. The grandmother had thought the next-door neighbor was insulting her in Spanish until Rina translated for her that the neighbor only wanted to move a pile of bricks from her yard.

Justin Jones has enjoyed speaking the vendors’ language when he goes to Tijuana to buy candy and pinatas. Andy Hernandez said being bilingual allows him to talk with everyone in his extended family.

Nestor is among several local award winners at the CABE conference in San Jose this weekend. C. Elisa Holston of the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District is CABE’s teacher of the year, and Magda Escareno-Maldonado of the Chula Vista Elementary School District is runner-up.

Margarita “Maggie” Martinez of the Chula Vista district is aide of the year. Parents of the year include Jesus and Eva Pacheco of the Cajon Valley Union School District and Julia McCarthy de Ayala of the Chula Vista district.

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