SANTA ANA—The kids at Heninger Elementary School have a leg up, the U.S. secretary of education told them Friday: They speak a second language.
But, Secretary Richard W. Riley told them, good reading skills will be the key to their success.
“Reading is something you have to do every day,” Riley told a gathering of more than 50 students, teachers, parents and school officials. “You don’t get a good job without it. It improves your education, but it’s also fun.”
Riley, 64, is in Southern California for a series of speeches to business groups.
At Heninger, the only school he visited in Orange County, he touted “Read*Write*Now!,” an Education Department program that emphasizes summer reading.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) had suggested that Riley visit Heninger because of its HOSTS, or Helping One Student to Succeed program, which matches tutors with students who have difficulty reading and writing.
At Heninger, 99% of the students speak Spanish at home, school officials said.
Principal Kathy Sabine said programs such as HOSTS help students to overcome obstacles and improve test scores.
“These programs are helping all of our children to break the cycle of failure,” she said.
Riley, noting that he had been greeted Friday by a choir of children who easily switched from English to Spanish, said two languages are an asset. He noted that many Europeans speak at least two.
“We have been very lazy in this country about foreign language,” Riley said. “We need to get busy.”
However, Riley gave an upbeat assessment of education in the United States. He noted that while other countries outrank the United States in math and science test scores, students here are a close second.
“We see education criticized from time to time,” he said. But improvements “are starting to show up.”
After his remarks, Riley chatted with about two-dozen children, asking what careers they wanted to pursue.
In response to one answer, Riley said: “I’m a lawyer, and I’m sorry to know you’re going to be competing with me.”