Some Students Protest Highland Offerings

Highland High School officials, who sparked a walkout in October by lopping classes for students with limited English skills, say they will offer a wider variety of bilingual instruction classes in the fall.

But instead of winning plaudits, the announcement has angered some students.

It also flies in the face of a recent lawsuit against Albuquerque Public Schools, calling for the elimination of all bilingual programs within the district.

Beginning next year, Highland principal Eartha Lynn said, the school will enhance its focus on bilingual programs, offering students a wider variety of Spanish language classes in disciplines such as math, science and history.

In bilingual settings, students with limited English skills are taught subjects in their native language. At Highland, those courses are available only to Spanish-language students.

Lynn said the school also will offer more courses using English-as-a-second-language techniques. In those classes, students can learn various subjects from instructors who speak only English, but modify instruction so students with limited English can understand.

In October, the cancellation of four such ESL non-grammar courses led to the walkout involving about 200 students.

Lynn said the new approach will allow students with limited English skills to meet all their graduation requirements without having to enroll in classes where no concessions are made for language skills.

The changes, though, will come at a cost, she said.

Namely, the school likely will not be able to offer as many ESL grammar classes, which are dedicated entirely to teaching students English, she said.

And that angers Highland junior Lizet Aranda, who said she would like to learn as much English as possible before graduation.

“We came to school to learn English and to seek a better future,” she said.

Aranda’s complaints mirror those made by 14 students in a lawsuit filed against APS last week demanding that all bilingual programs be cut.

The plaintiffs claim such programs are a disservice to students with limited English skills. They say students are best served when they receive intense language instruction, with classes like math and science being offered only in English.

Highland assistant principal Theresa Carroll, who oversees the school’s programs for limited-English students, said it was parents who requested the shift in programs.

She said she recognizes, however, that others — including many teachers — disagree with the new focus.

“A majority of our bilingual and ESL teachers favored the changes,” she said. “But there are always critics out there who favor an English-immersion approach.”

Carroll and Lynn say the school won’t know how many ESL grammar courses might be cut next year until students have finished registering for classes.

They said they are certain, however, the school is complying with, and even exceeding, state requirements for teaching English to non-native speakers.

Because the school is on a block schedule, its classes last 85 minutes — nearly twice the length of those elsewhere.

As a result, Lynn said, students who enroll in Highland’s ESL grammar courses receive more than twice the 40 minutes of language instruction a day the state requires. She said they will continue to receive at least that amount of ESL grammar instruction.

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