Language plan gets nod from parents

City's schools push for classes in English

QUINCY — Parents of Chinese students with limited English proficiency raised no objections last night to a proposal that could end bilingual classes for elementary school students in this increasingly diverse city.

“Give it a try,” parent Sophia Zhu said through an interpreter after a meeting between about 20 parents and school officials at North Quincy High School.

Under the proposal by Quincy school officials, elementary school children who speak Vietnamese, Spanish or other languages would receive intensive lessons in English rather than separate instruction in their native tongues.

School officials propose to start the program this fall at seven elementary schools. The effect would be to allow non-English-speaking children to attend their neighborhood schools instead of taking buses to bilingual classes.

Initially, bilingual classes for Cantonese-speaking students, the largest minority in the city’s schools, would continue to be held at two elementary schools.

But if the experiment with multilingual classes where English is the common tongue succeeds, school officials plan to gradually phase out all bilingual education except in middle and high schools.

The school committee will hold a hearing at 7 p.m. tomorrow on the proposal, which depends on the state waiving its rules on bilingual education.

Asian-Americans, mostly from China, comprise about

15 percent of Quincy’s population.

More than 700 students in the Quincy school system are enrolled in English as a Second Language or bilingual classes. Separate instruction is offered only in Cantonese and Vietnamese; all other non-English-speaking students are placed in regular classes with limited instruction in English.

Supporters of bilingual education argue that instruction in children’s native tongues is essential to providing them with an adequate education. Opposition is generally based on the notion that separate instruction in native tongues inhibits the learning of English.

At last night’s meeting for Cantonese-speaking parents, the only person who objected to the proposal was the director of a Boston-based group that promotes bilingual education.

“We believe that it’s very important to learn English,” said Tom Louie, head of a non-profit organization called Massachusetts English Plus. “At the same time, we believe it’s very important to know your native language.”

In bilingual education, students study math, science and other subjects in their native language, while also learning English. They gradually move into regular academic classes as they gain command of English.

Louie said he’s concerned the proposed multilingual classes would fail to help students master grammar, writing and reading in their native tongue.

But Assistant Superintendent Carol Lee Griffin said multilingual classes are the best solution for teaching the hundreds of Quincy students who speak 36 languages other than English.

A state audit last fall ruled that Quincy’s bilingual program is inadequate because it lacks separate classes for Vietnamese-speakers at the elementary level.

After having no success at finding qualified Vietnamese-speaking teachers, Quincy school officials decided instead to try changing their entire approach to teaching non-English-speaking students.

Debbie Cheung, a Cantonese-speaking guidance counselor at Atlantic Middle School, said Chinese parents share Louie’s concerns that children both learn English and become adept in their native language.

Cheung said some children may be more likely to lose their native language without the support of bilingual education in the schools.

[ “Some kids go out after school and play with a lot of American kids,” she said. “It gives them less time to use their native tongue.” ] [ This ran S2 only. ]

But, she said, most parents feel they already take adequate steps to ensure there children maintain their native language.

“Usually at home they speak their mother tongue,” she said.

And many Quincy families send their children to a special school on Saturday where they study their study the Chinese language and culture, she said.

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