Parents tackle foreign tongue

EDUCATION: They are learning English so they can tutor their children. It's part of Prop. 227.

Mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles have been busy burning their brains with English lately as part of Proposition 227, the initiative designed to eliminate bilingual education.

They’ve been drilling through words like “pumpkin” and “bonnet.” They’ve been responding to questions in English, a language that slips clumsily off their tongues.

They’ve been trying to climb a steep learning curve, hopeful that they will be one step ahead of the kids they have promised to tutor.

Under Prop. 227, $50 million was set aside annually to fund English classes for adults who pledge to tutor kids.

Orange County school districts this year have received almost double what they were given last year – about $75 compared with $39 per limited-English student – because money was not immediately available after the initiative passed in June 1998.

County districts received $10.7 million for their limited-English 140,388 students.

Educators are using the program to help foster family involvement in schools.

By targeting parents, who are often isolated by language, school officials say they are encouraging families to be part of learning English along with their kids.

Countywide, hundreds of adults whose native languages range from Spanish to Vietnamese to Turkish have been spending several hours a week scrunched into little desks, learning English.

In Fountain Valley, about 50 parents are participating in English classes. In Garden Grove, the pilot program at Rosita School has drawn about 100 parents. And in Capistrano Unified, about 300 parents, a majority of them from San Juan Elementary in San Juan Capistrano, are learning English along with tutoring skills.

Yet the number of adults willing to tutor is small compared with the 140,000 students with limited English who call Orange County home.

Two years after the initiative passed, school administrators say they’re still trying to get more parents involved.

“We’re just getting started,” said Stephanie Paggi, director of student support for Garden Grove Unified. “We project that we can gather 750 to 1,000 parents into the tutoring program by next year.”

Santa Ana Unified’s school board just approved a $2.9 million community-based English-tutoring program to integrate parents into English classes, pay them for tutoring their kids and provide them with job and computer skills. The goal, formed in conjunction with Santa Ana College, is to draw 1,000 parents a year into the tutoring program, which would be held at 16 schools to start.

“It’s very ambitious,” said Patricia Gomez, parent coordinator for Santa Ana Unified, “but it addresses parents’ needs at all levels.”

Parents, like Marisol Leon, the mother of an Oka Elementary first- grader, say it’s a tough job.

“I’m afraid that I won’t be able to keep up with him,” said Leon, whose grasp of English allows her to help her first-grade son, Hector, with some of his homework. But Leon keeps a Spanish-English dictionary handy for the not-so-easilytranslated words like “heap.”

“If I can help it, I want to learn English faster than he does, so I can keep up with my son’s homework,” Leon said.



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