Bilingual ‘segregation’ was frustrating For most of his elementary school years, Pedro Contreras was assigned to the back of the class with his Spanish-speaking classmates, learning their lessons in Spanish.
The English-speakers belonged in the front.
Some years, the teacher spent most of her time with the English speakers, leaving an aide to tend to the Spanish speakers.
“After a while, I felt bad,” said Contreras, now 18, of Guadalajara, Mexico. “I was always getting into fights. I think I was taking out the frustration. I wasn’t learning anything.”
His mother, Griselda Villa, asked the school to take her youngest son out of bilingual education in third grade at Lynn Urquides Elementary School — Contreras’ third school after moving to the United States at age 7.
Villa was told, “I was Hispanic. He needed to be in Spanish.”
The school finally moved Contreras to a regular class in sixth grade, after Hector Ayala, who taught Contreras’ older brother, went with her to request the transfer. Ayala now is a leader trying to ban bilingual education through a state ballot initiative.
Contreras started getting straight A’s, and his behavior improved.
“I felt much better. I wasn’t segregated,” Contreras said. “I had a lot of friends in there. It felt more like at home.”
At Cholla High Magnet School, Contreras took advanced-placement classes and graduated last year with a scholarship to the University of Arizona. He is studying international business.
Contreras said he doesn’t think he would have made it if he’d stayed in bilingual education.
“Bilingual education, the way it’s being taught, is not working,” Contreras said. “If it doesn’t work, they should get rid of it.”
Bilingual schooling stunted her English Maria Elena Pesqueira still doesn’t feel comfortable speaking English, even though she moved here from Mexico in third grade.
Pesqueira, 29, blames bilingual education.
“The thing that affected me the most is that I knew that the teachers spoke Spanish, so I wouldn’t force myself that much,” said Pesqueira, now a preschool teacher in Head Start.
Pesqueira had weak schooling in her native Nogales, Sonora, before starting at C.E. Rose Elementary School knowing only Spanish. There, she would learn English and Spanish in a regular bilingual class but was frequently pulled out for Spanish lessons.
When she switched to Van Buskirk Elementary School in fifth grade, teachers would often send her to a special room with two other children to learn English on flash-card machines.
“I was all confused, my English and my Spanish,” Pesqueira said.
Although she maintained average grades at Utterback Middle School, Pesqueira said she didn’t understand all the vocabulary in her regular classes. At Pueblo High School, she took a Spanish class to learn accents and writing because her Spanish skills were weak.
Among her siblings, she said, the ones who were in bilingual education still speak English poorly while those in English classes flourish in the language.
Now as a preschool teacher, Pesqueira silently reads stories before she recites them out loud to children so she makes sure she knows all the words. Her students sometimes correct her pronunciation.
“It’s embarrassing that the kids are telling you how to say some words,” she said.
Pesqueira tells the parents of Spanish-speaking children to put them in an English-only kindergarten.
“If the kids are going to be here, I think they should learn English and parents can teach them Spanish at home,” she said.