Bilingual education isn’t a special program at Heninger Elementary.
It is the program.
Nine of every 10 students are in some kind of bilingual class at the Santa Ana school, which has one of the county’s highest concentrations of limited English speakers: Out of 830 students, 744 are more comfortable in Spanish.
Heninger represents one of the extreme examples of the language challenges schools across California face. With ever-growing populations of children who speak other languages, schools must not only teach the students English, but also make sure they receive access to a core curriculum that includes math and science.
“If it were just English we were trying to teach, it’d be no problem,” said Principal Kathy Sabine. “But we’re also trying to teach them concepts and ideas fast enough for them to keep up with other students. “
How best to do that has become part of a protracted political debate that doesn’t always take into account the complexities involved in educating students of widely ranging abilities, backgrounds and languages.
Sometimes, schools like Heninger try to do everything right.
Only to have the real world betray them.
To grease the students’ progress, Heninger offers one-on-one tutoring designed to catch students before they lag. And this year, Heninger started a federally funded program to help teach English through the arts.
On the language census, the school listed 20 teachers as being specially certified to teach in a bilingual education program, either in English or in the primary languge. Seven more teachers in training are teamed with bilingual aides.
And yet, this year, just one student was able to make the transition out of a bilingual program.
Sabine could go on and on with reasons why: neighborhoods where English isn’t spoken, homes where reading is not always reinforced, individual abilities, varying educational backgrounds.
Then there’s the problem of sticking with the program while half the school population leaves each year to be replaced by entirely new students.
Critics of native language instruction attribute the low transition rate to an ill-conceived program.
“To me (native language instruction) is almost criminal and is handicapping our children,” Santa Ana school board member Rosemarie Avila said.
Sabine says the world’s more complicated than that.
“Our tests show that children who come in with immersion are scoring lower by fourth grade than kids who have had some native language instruction,” she said. “It really does make a difference. “
Heninger’s program is structured like this:
Kindergartners who enter speaking primarily Spanish start in a native language program that includes English development. Some subjects are taught in Spanish. But it doesn’t mean the teacher never uses English.
In Sheryl Shipley’s class last week, the class read a story:
“Between the rocks, over the wall, up the tree. “
On a wall hung a little poster: “Amo a Mi Mama” (I love mom).
By second grade, Spanish words still decorate the classroom, but students like Frank Granados, 7, are reading off the bulletin board in English: “In January, Hermit Crab grew and had to find a new shell. ” By the beginning of third grade, the first of the students who entered school speaking only Spanish will begin moving to classes taught only in English. It will take other students longer.
By fourth grade, entire classes are taught in English. And students prepare to take a special test to move them out of the limited-English category and officially designate them as fluent English speakers.
“Dear Journal,” read Noemi Gonzalez, 9, to her fourth-grade class recently, “if I had a million dollars, I would buy a big house for my mom and a car for my dad. ”
CHART/LIST: THE EDUCATION OF LIMITED-ENGLISH STUDENTS
LEP students _ those with limited proficiency in English _ do not always get the education to which they may be entitled. Below are 1996 figures showing the number of LEP students, the percentage of LEP students receiving instruction in their native languages and the percentage not being taught by certified bilingual instructors.
TAUGHT IN BY CERTIFIED
LEP CHANGE NATIVE BILINGUAL
STUDENTS FROM ’95 LANGUAGE INSTRUCTORS
Anaheim City 11,101 +7.6% 0.0% 0.0%
Anaheim Union 7,869 +7.1 5.7 15.1
Brea-Olinda 550 +14.8 0.0 20.4
Buena Park 1,508 +6.6 28.3 2.1
Capistrano 3,661 +13.1 30.3 27.4
Centralia 1,076 _8.1 0.0 0.0
Cypress 452 +4.6 0.0 0.4
Fountain Valley 775 _5.7 0.0 14.0
Fullerton Elementary 3,478 +9.3 16.7 3.5
Fullerton Joint Union 3,458 +6.9 0.0 33.6
Garden Grove 20,012 +6.8 4.6 0.0
Hunt. Beach City 461 _8.7 23.6 1.7
Hunt. Beach Union 2,170 +1.4 0.0 59.2
Irvine 2,222 _2.7 0.0 33.8
Laguna Beach 112 _10.4 18.8 0.9
La Habra 2,100 +11.8 40.0 2.4
Los Alamitos 199 _7.9 0.0 20.6
Magnolia 2,440 +17.8 0.0 1.6
Newport-Mesa 4,983 +11.7 28.6 11.6
Ocean View 1,796 +8.4 25.8 1.5
Orange 6,870 +4.2 22.9 21.0
Plac.-Yorba Linda 3,824 +6.3 33.6 0.0
Saddleback Valley 2,078 +8.4 4.4 52.2
Santa Ana 35,854 +4.5 29.8 33.8
Savanna 562 +2.7 0.0 0.0
Tustin 3,330 +9.0 0.0 4.4
Westminster 4,113 +2.4 1.4 0.0
Source: Orange County school districts, Orange County Department of Education