In Lora Morales’ summer school classes at Drexel Elementary, children from second through fifth grades are learning English.
They also are learning to get along in English immersion classes mandated by last year’s passage of Proposition 203.
At a cooking center, some students string colorful cereal O’s and LifeSavers in specific patterns. At another table, kids in headphones listen to a story in English and answer questions.
A short time later, Morales is using peanut butter, wheat and white bread, chocolates, Skittles, raisins and jelly to illustrate the formation of Earth’s layers. Raisins represent granite; peanut butter, sand; and jelly works just right for a volcanic eruption. The children seem to remember better with props, Morales said.
“You guys did a great job,” said Morales, a master teacher, who has been in Sunnyside Unified School District nine years.
In that time, she said she has seen a great change in attitudes of English as a Second Language (ESL) students. “When I first started, kids would say, ‘What for do I need to learn English? There will be someone at the bank, at the store who can speak Spanish.’ Now kids are saying, ‘We want to learn English to get a better job.’ It’s interesting how the attitudes have changed.”
Still, Morales said the bilingual education program has worked at Sunnyside. Some of her first students graduated from high school this year. They are fluent in both Spanish and English and are college-bound, she said.
She hopes her current students will be on the same track. Francisco Lopez, 11, said he knows a lot more English now that he has spent four weeks in the ESL summer school classes. “My mom and dad speak a little English, but now I can teach them more,” he said.
At 9-year-old Gerardo Molina-Fuentes’ home, where Spanish is spoken almost exclusively, he, too, is becoming a helper when his parents need his English knowledge.
That’s because he has had a good teacher who also has made him feel more ready to go into an English immersion class this fall, he said.
The same is true for Ruby Higuera, 7, who said she likes speaking English and appreciates the extra help from these English as a Second Language summer classes.
“It is important to speak English because some of the kids can’t speak Spanish, so I can talk to them in English,” said Larissa Gutierrez, 8.
Brizeida Guerra, 9, said she learned English by playing word bingo and in cooking centers, where the students make snacks, using recipes in English.
“The kids feel more comfortable and have learned a lot,” Morales said. “I think most will be able to function (in English immersion classes). They don’t realize who much they know.”
She said Julian Contreras, 9, came to class one day – sort of surprised – and told her, “You know, my mom says I’m learning a lot of English.”
And Nathalie Zepeda, 6, seemed in awe of all the English she had learned through “fun and play” in the classes.
It was the same with Fernando Ibarra, 10, who now won’t worry about being in English-only classes in the fall.
That was the main reason that four master teachers, Morales, Norma Ramirez, Mary Greer and Edith Corrales, developed this ESL unit, which is conducted mostly in English. Key words in English sometimes are used to get kids back on track.
The range of English language knowledge varies dramatically with the 65 students in the four classes. Some were close to getting a passing grade in a proficiency test, which would help them qualify for a waiver from the required structured English immersion (SEI) classes into Two-Language Acquisition (TLA) classes. TLA is the new name for bilingual education.
Other children came into the summer classes four weeks ago at point zero, Ramirez said. “This will be a steppingstone, a risk-free environment to give them a little success.”
The classes are aimed at teaching content and developing vocabulary. “Some of the kids are still going to have a hard time, but we want to show them it’s not going to be that bad. We tell them, ‘Let’s give it a shot,’ ” said Ramirez, who has been in bilingual education for 21 years.
And preliminary post-testing results have shown growth in children at both ends of the spectrum, she said.
While Ramirez said she has been against Proposition 203 from the start, and still is, the school district will comply “and do the best we can for the children. There will be extras such as tutoring,” she said, “and I’ve even heard talk about Saturday school, although it hasn’t been planned yet.”