District to weigh language options

EDUCATION: Anaheim City schools might offer parents a choice of enrolling children in classes taught in English, Spanish or both.

ANAHEIM, CA—Stacy Hampton struggled for months _ first filling out a flurry of transfer forms, then lobbying a host of school principals and district officials _ to get her two sons transferred to Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School three miles from her home.

She could have sent them to Horace Mann Elementary just two blocks away, but she was convinced her boys would be bored in that school’s kindergarten class.

“There were 28 children sitting on the rug and a teacher would give directions in English and then an aide would repeat it in Spanish,” said Hampton, who said she visited the class when her oldest son was ready for kindergarten.

“I knew then that my child’s needs would not be met,” said Hampton, who worried that her English-speaking son was being short-changed instruction time.

For Hampton, the bilingual curriculum was the only choice at her local school, but now she and other parents could be offered a variety of options.

On Tuesday, the Anaheim City School District board will discuss giving parents the option to enroll their children in either an English-only, a bilingual or a dual-language program. Board members and district employees must first sift through the issues of teaching techniques and schedules to see if such changes are feasible.

“We don’t know if it’s operationally possible,” admitted board president Todd Kaudy. “But we need to explore and see if we can provide more customer satisfaction, to give parents the most optimal choices for their child. “

Approximately 11,000 of the district’s 20,000 students speak limited English. Teaching strategies for them vary by site and _ often _ by student.

Kids often start with native-language instruction _ usually Spanish, based on current student population demographics. Later, they shift to a “sheltered English” program, where aides help translate lessons, or to an English as a second language curriculum for part of the day.

At Betsy Ross Elementary, for example, teachers team up and practice immersion, where a group of about 30 students get mostly English instruction, except during language arts.

During a recent morning lesson, bilingual kindergarten teacher Teresa Nilsson pronounced the words, gallo (rooster) and caballo (horse) to her Spanish-speaking students in the reading corner.

Meanwhile, teacher Patricia Martin drew wiggly seaweed stalks in a fish bowl, teaching the English-speaking kids to count.

When the teachers traded groups, Martin continued to teach math in English to the native Spanish-speakers, while Nilsson read an English version of the same animal book about roosters and horses to the other group.

“We want to make sure that all the students _ either Spanish-speaking or English-speaking _ have their individual needs met,” Ross Principal Jan Grant said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, district officials will discuss the following options for students.

English only: Children would attend school on a year-round cycle and be taught all subjects in English. However, Superintendent Roberta Thompson said the year-round cycle makes this grouping difficult, because children at different grade levels might have different schedules.

School overcrowding, which has pushed Anaheim City to consider putting a construction bond measure on the ballot, will be even more strained, said Thompson, because if students are physically separated, more rooms will be needed to house the new programs.

Bilingual: Spanish-speaking students would be taught in their native language, gradually learning English until they are proficient. Board member Harald Martin argues that this method underestimates students’ ability to learn English and that students are better off being taught in English rather than in their native language.

Dual language: All students would be placed in classes that aim for fluency in two languages in a full dual-immersion program. For example, kids could become proficient in English and Spanish. But district officials and teachers say that would require additional staffing and instructional time.

“There are 43 languages spoken in this district,” said Roberta Webb, mother of two Stoddard students. “We’d love to have kids learn English, French, Spanish, Portuguese _ just write a check and start a school. We all want it to happen, but no one’s willing to pay for it. “

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