The Los Angeles school board on Monday approved the development of an unusual bilingual education program in which English-speaking students would be immersed in Spanish in the earliest year or more of school.

The eventual goal of such a program, said Westside board member Alan Gershman, who proposed it, would be to encourage Spanish- and English-speaking youngsters to become fluent in both languages.

“It would be a true bilingual program,” he said.

Outline of Proposal

The program proposed by Gershman would be voluntary and is modeled after one that has operated in San Diego for several years.

Under the plan, both groups of students initially would be instructed entirely in Spanish, perhaps through kindergarten and the first grade. The Spanish-speaking student would gradually learn English, beginning perhaps in second grade, but would continue to receive some instruction in Spanish through the sixth grade.

Gershman’s proposal, which directs the school district staff to design a pilot program, was passed by a 5-1 vote. Once the program is designed, the board will vote again on whether to implement it in classrooms.

The board’s vote comes as the Legislature is trying to decide whether to extend the state’s bilingual education law. Legislators are divided over the effectiveness of bilingual instruction in general.

Change in Direction

Bilingual programs now in use in the Los Angeles district are “transitional” programs that use a student’s primary language to teach reading, writing, math and other basic subjects while also teaching English. In such programs, the amount of instruction given in a student’s native language is gradually reduced until the student can be taught entirely in English.

The San Diego program is being used as a model because students who have participated in it have not only gained fluency in the other language, but have performed academically as well or better than students in traditional programs, said Romero Garcia, of the Los Angeles district’s bilingual education office.

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