Kindergarteners to Share, Learn Languages

Education: A new program in Mission Viejo will attempt to make children in one class fluent in English and Spanish

MISSION VIEJO—It is a fact of California life that at just about every public school, there is at least one class taught almost entirely in Spanish.

And while those classes are used as a bridge for bringing Spanish speakers into the English-speaking mainstream, one such kindergarten class planned for Saddleback Valley Unified School District next fall will have a new twist: 50% of the class will be native English speakers.

Called the Spanish Immersion Program, it will seek to make both English and Spanish speakers fluent in the other language, according to coordinator Maria Quezada. It will be the first program of its kind in Orange County.

The 30 students will be volunteered by their parents for the program, which calls for the children to remain in an immersion class through sixth grade.

The school where the class will be taught has not been selected, although all district kindergartners will be eligible, Quezada said. A meeting for parents of prospective students is scheduled at 7 p.m. Thursday at district headquarters, 25631 Diseno Drive.

Quezada believes there will be ample volunteers.

“I think the population we have in our district — mainly upwardly mobile professionals — know the benefits their children will receive by being bilingual,” Quezada said. “It is easier to learn a foreign language when you are young. Children do not have their internal sound system so in tune to only one language as do adults.”

Funded by a $70,000 federal grant, the program calls for the students to be taught in Spanish during 90% of their class time during their early school years. By sixth grade, 50% of class time will be devoted to English.

“To teach most subjects, science, for example, in the lower grades, teachers depend on pictures,” Quezada explained. “When a teacher is talking about elephants, she would show pictures of elephants and the child would learn that the word is elefante” in Spanish.

To be chosen for the program, the English-speaking students must be advanced for their age in the use of English, Quezada said.

“Children with low English skills would have their academic problems compounded if they were placed in the program,” she said. The parents of the immersion students will also have to display enthusiasm and commitment to the program, she added.

“They are going to have to be supportive, because there are going to be times when their child will be highly frustrated,” she said. “And they have to be patient, because they can’t expect instant results. It will take five to seven years for their child to be fully fluent in Spanish.”

Because there are only 600 Spanish-only speakers in the district, the program will be less selective on that count, Quezada said.

“But we have more middle-class and professional Spanish-speakers in our area than there are elsewhere, so I don’t think that will be a problem,” she said.

The benefit for the class’ Spanish speakers, Quezada said, will be their exposure to the English speakers, both in the classroom and on the playground.

“Even in an English-as-a-second-language program, these students would only receive English instruction 20 minutes a day,” she said. “The children will teach each other.”

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