Bilingual educator has new challenge

For years, Gloria Tuchman has been working to change bilingual education. Now she hopes to change they way schoolchildren eat.

Tuchman, a first-grade teacher at Taft Elementary School in Santa Ana and a member of the National Advisory and Coordinating Council on Bilingual Education, recently was appointed to a two-year term on the National Advisory Council on Child Nutrition.

Child nutrition is a new topic for Tuchman, a veteran of 24 years of teaching English-immersion techniques to children who speak other languages. Tuchman, who is Hispanic, says minority children can learn English relatively quickly using her immersion method.

Bilingual education — in which children learn in their native language and gradually are introduced to English — actually can handicap students by giving them less of a chance to learn the English they need to succeed, she says.

Tuchman, 46, was busy enough before her latest appointment, made by John W. Bode, assistant secretary for food and consumer services for the US Department of Agriculture. She’s also a trustee on the Tustin Unified School District board.

“I still have time to have fun,” she said. “I have a real supportive family.”

The 19-member nutrition council studies the operation of the nation’s child-nutrition program and makes recommendations for change.

Tuchman said her main concern is that “school lunches must taste good and look good, but they also must be nutritious.”

A resident of North Tustin and mother of two, Tuchman is married to the assistant principal at Sierra Intermediate School in Santa Ana. She has been nominated for teacher of the year at her school. She also serves as treasurer on the Hispanic School Board Caucus.

Tuchman’s views have attracted some opposition from supporters of bilingual education, but she isn’t afraid to speak out on issues that concern her, she said. She was appointed to the bilingual council in November by Education Secretary William Bennett.

“I’m not one to sit back and let things go by,” said Tuchman, who has been featured in USA Today, the Christian Science Monitor and other publications.

Her classes often include students who speak various languages, including Vietnamese, Khmer, Hmong, Laotian, Cantonese, French and Farsi, along with Spanish. But English is the only language she wants to hear in the classroom. Her techniques move the students slowly but surely toward speaking English, starting with simple words.

“Minority students are a challenge for me. We are told they can’t perform because of economic circumstance. I don’t buy into that. A child is a child,” she said.

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