Transition a hurdle for students as initiative gives rise to changes

The statistics don’t begin to tell the story of Liz Quisquinay’s reading class.

To look at the numbers, Proposition 227 has had little impact on Sacramento City schools. Parents sought waivers for 526 students to be in bilingual education — about the same number as last year and a fraction of the district’s 15,000 students not fluent in English.

But that means little to 9-year-old Ana Andrade, who was catapulted into English-only classes this year after spending most of last year being taught in Spanish.

“It was an injustice to do that to them,” said Quisquinay, who spoke no English herself when she emigrated from Guatemala as a child and who is now teaching English learners at Ethel Phillips Elementary School in south Sacramento.

Though Quisquinay uses all English materials and speaks only English to the students, Ana sometimes responds in Spanish.

“Sometimes I don’t know words so I speak Spanish,” Ana explained. While she finds school more difficult, she still thinks being taught in English is “OK.”

In third grade last year, Ana spent just 90 minutes of her six-hour school day learning English. Such subjects as reading and social studies were taught in Spanish.

Fourth grade was to be the “transition year” for Ana and her classmates when they would spend much more time on English to prepare for fifth grade and beyond, when Spanish would no longer be used.

School officials already had been considering moving the transition up a year. The decision was cemented after the passage of Proposition 227 because the fourth-graders’ parents “wanted them in all English,” said Principal Mary Greeson.

Now many of the bilingual fourth-graders are in Quisquinay’s reading class, which is taught at a second-grade level.

“It’s had a big impact on them, especially the shy, little ones. They were used to Spanish, Spanish, Spanish. They were not ready (for all English),” Quisquinay said. “They really did get used to it, but they’re not there yet.”

While many of the 31 students — some of whom are fifth- and sixth-graders — are struggling with English, nine are graduating to a higher-level reading class after only eight weeks.

And, regardless of ability, many of the students say they are happy to be learning English.

School “is more fun in English,” said Jessica Celaya, “because Spanish is my regular language.”

Comments are closed.