While praising the Orange County School Board for holding its first bilingual meeting, parents and teachers said there is still work to be done in educating Hispanic students.

“It’s telling the parents that they (school officials) do care. It’s a big first,” said Sylvia B. Andrade, a teacher of English as a second language at Apopka Elementary School.

Maria Martinez, who has two children in the bilingual classes, said she was glad the board recognized the Hispanic community with the meeting Tuesday night.

She said the language classes have been important to her children and to her.

“I learned my English from my daughter,” she said. The programs, she said, “are necessary to a lot of people.”

For nearly two hours, the meeting room was filled with the sounds of Spanish as a school employee translated remarks by board members.

Signs in both English and Spanish were posted outside the meeting room and a large screen behind board members flashed the agenda in Spanish.

Board chairman Bill Barnes said that the board was making a statement that “no matter where you come from you should feel comfortable in the Orange County public schools.” And, Barnes said, the board is planning several similar meetings to reach the Hispanic community. Those details have not been set.

The percentage of Hispanic students in the district has increased 228 percent since 1982. There are now nearly 8,000 Hispanics, or about 11 percent of students, in the school district. That figure includes 4,500 students who receive special bilingual training or attend English classes. About 5 percent of the district’s employees are Hispanic.

Officials used the meeting to showcase the district’s programs for bilingual students, which include special tutoring and classes where the instruction is given in Spanish.

Many parents praised the programs, but said they would like to see more done.

Blanca Moreno, who has four children in Orange County schools, said “what we would like is for all the schools to have the same (bilingual) programs.” Bilingual programs, offered at schools where the bilingual population is heavy, serve as centers which draw students from other schools.

Many of the questions fielded from the audience of about 150, which included many Hispanic parents and their children, concerned expanding the program to more schools and problems with transportation.

Maria Rodriguez, whose two children attend bilingual classes, said she hoped the district would create programs for Hispanic students that would concentrate more on reading and writing English.

Her daughter, who is in the third grade at Cheney Elementary, still doesn’t “know how to write proper English.”

Andrade said she and other teachers are concerned about class size. She said she often has as many as 33 students, from several different countries, who can be on 8 to 10 learning levels.

“It is very difficult,” she said.

Board member Iris Tapley said she was eager to hear the concerns of parents and listen to their ideas.

“We’ll listen and we’ll deal with them if we can,” Tapley said.

But, she said, money is already tight and things are not likely to improve anytime soon.

“If they have any suggestions that don’t have a whole lot of money involved we will take a look at it,” she said.

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