Bilingual Education Endorsed

PUHSD Official Urges Extension to All Students

PHOENIX—Tracey Yokey encouraged her teenager to learn Spanish. After all, she thought, it would give him an advantage in the Valley’s job market.

But during his second year of Spanish, her son lost his instructor and dropped the subject because the teaching method changed.

Yokey wondered whether he could jump into Phoenix Union High School’s $3.3 million annual Program for Limited English Proficient Students – but the answer would probably be no, said Joan Mason, director of Phoenix Union’s Program LEP Students.

While Yokey’s child would be eligible for the district’s regular foreign-language program, the LEP program offers help only to children who are limited in English.

And that concerns Doug Thomas, member of the Phoenix Union High School Board. He believes the opportunity to learn Spanish should be available to each student.

In fact, he envisions a dual language program available to all children – allowing students who speak only English an opportunity to learn Spanish.

“I’m all for bilingual education all around, but I hate it being one-sided,” Thomas said. “For the record, I’m very much opposed to being one-sided. I think it’s unfair. It’s plain, outright unfair.”

Thomas asked the Phoenix Union school administration to conduct a pilot project to study the feasibility of accommodating all students.

The remarks made by Thomas were delivered at a Phoenix Union board meeting May 6, where the group heard a report on the district’s bilingual education program.

School board leaders had asked for the report before House Bill 2387, a bill that confirms parents’ rights to withdraw their children from bilingual classes, was discussed. The Legislature approved the bill but did little to head off an initiative campaign for a California-style dismantling of bilingual education in Arizona.

The good news, Mason told school board members, is that the district is ahead of Arizona leaders because it already gives out a waiver form to parents.

The form allows them, once their child is eligible, to decide whether he or she should participate in the LEP program.

Phoenix Union has 2,200 high school students at its eight traditional campuses, two alternative campuses and Valley Metro Tech Institute. A majority of the students are Hispanic.

A total of 826 classes are offered to LEP students, who speak 35 other languages other than English and Spanish.

But none of this helps Yokey and her son, who she says has been passed over for jobs at fast-food restaurants and motels. Employers advertise and say, ” ‘Prefer bilingual,’ ” Yokey said, “and you know they mean Spanish.”

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