Classes expanding

Bilingual education prepares students for mainstream

SOUTH BEND — A continuous growth of the Hispanic population in the South Bend Community School Corp. has certain schools bursting at the seams.

In 1987, 776 Hispanic students attended South Bend schools. Today, more than 1,743 are swelling those hallways.

As a result, the corporation plans to expand its English as a Second Language classes to Greene and Wilson elementary schools, Jackson Middle School and Riley High School for the 1999-2000 school year.

The ESL program is already offered at Harrison, Studebaker, Brown, Kennedy and Madison elementary schools. Navarre and Clay Middle schools and Adams and Washington high schools are also program sites.

Maritza Robles, director of bilingual education, said broadening the program will give students equal learning opportunities and help the department tend to the different needs each group brings.

In addition to Spanish, 76 other languages are spoken by students who list something other than English as their first language. These students are eligible for tutorial services through the bilingual department.

Gauging proficiency

When a student arrives at a South Bend public school, he or she must complete a home language survey and identify a first language. A student listing English is not eligible for services.

The program is not about skin color, but rather language proficiency, Robles points out.

Students who have identified a need to learn English in order to function in a classroom can register in ESL classes, but it is optional. A few students and their parents have opted to forgo the program.

ESL/bilingual classes are conducted in both English and Spanish to provide pupils an easy transition.

Students are moved to mainstream classes with the rest of the school after a teacher recommends that the child is ready for an English-only setting. Tests given at the end of each school year, which measure a student’s listening, speaking, reading and writing skills, are also used to judge how well a person is grasping the language.

The goal is to help students become proficient enough to enter those mainstream classes. It usually takes about seven years to become proficient.

Jazmin Gutierrez, a senior at Adams High School who is taking most of her classes with the general population, said the ESL program has helped her tremendously.

When her family came from Mexico two years ago, Gutierrez couldn’t speak any English. Now she has more knowledge of the language than her father, who spoke better English than she did before she was exposed to the program.

“It was hard because in English you write one way and pronounce words another, so I had to always keep both things in mind. At times I would get really depressed because I was trying and I couldn’t get it, but you just have to keep trying,” she said. Robles said the most challenging part is finding adequate materials. If a 17-year-old enters the system at a third-grade level, the bilingual department must find information that is age-appropriate while keeping in mind where the student is academically.

Effect on employment

In addition to increasing services to students who are English-proficient, the bilingual department has hired additional staff members and increased the number of hours of professional development.

Five certified teachers and six noncertified teachers were added to teach classes, help with tutoring and provide other classroom assistance.

The additional staff members have increased personnel in the bilingual department to 68, with two openings, a 32 percent increase in staffing over three years. The staff is expected to increase, depending on the enrollment at Greene and Wilson in the fall.

Training and facilities

Robles said the schools have struggled to find trained staff members who can enter a classroom without being trained first.

Administrators have expressed a need for a bilingual and cultural support staff of psychologists, social workers and counselors, something the corporation is lacking.

Parents have also expressed a need for better use of school facilities. Harrison has the largest student enrollment of South Bend’s 24 elementary schools. The school has a student population of about 756; 45 percent are Hispanic.

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