Santa Ana increases English immersion classes

SANTA ANA, CA—School officials said they want to emphasize English in the classroom. Tuesday, the Santa Ana Unified School District Board of Trustees approved a program that reduces the number of classes using Spanish and other foreign languages as the primary language of instruction and quadrupled the number using English.

Bilingual education, a method of teaching children in their native language and introducing them to English gradually, is one of the most predominantly used methods in the state of teaching children who don’t speak English.

With this vote, Santa Ana school-board members are endorsing an English-only policy for classrooms, an instructional technique called “English immersion.” The old state bilingual law, which expired last June, required “transitional language programs,” in which students are taught in their native language as well as English.

Santa Ana school officials said they believe non-English-speaking students will learn English faster if they constantly use the language in classrooms.

School officials said that 75 percent of the 37,000-student school district’s student body is Latino.

Under the new method, students with limited-English skills will be in classrooms where only English is spoken. Some classes will remain as traditional bilingual classrooms to help those students who are recent immigrants, but they will be gradually included into the English-only programs.

Michael McLean, an administrator in the district’s elementary division, said that under the old bilingual law, the school district had just 50 English-immersion-type classes. Under the new proposal, there would be 205 English-immersion classes in the district.

The new proposal would significantly reduce the number of classes in which Spanish and other foreign tongues are used as an instructional language, McLean said.

Santa Ana Unified has 475 transitional-language classes, but under the new proposal there would be just 250 such classes where Spanish or another language other than English would be the main language of instruction, McLean said.

Although the board has approved the program for the district’s kindergarten through 12th-grade students, it won’t take effect unless it is approved by the Office for Civil Rights, which has the power to authorize changes in district bilingual-education programs.

The district expects to hear from the San Francisco-based Civil Rights office by mid-March.

The proposal has been endorsed by the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Association of Mexican American Educators and the California Association of Hispanic Caucas.

Katrina Wilson, a senior at Saddleback High School, said she has been tutoring students in the English as a Second Language course. Wilson, who speaks Spanish fluently, said she believes that the new proposal is beneficial, but asked the board to continue ESL classes for students who speak only Spanish.

“As a tutor I’ve noticed that when I’m working with students in English only, they don’t always get the concept,” Wilson said. “But as soon as I told them in Spanish they were able to grasp what I was saying and we were able to go on.”

Gloria Tuchman, a first-grade teacher at Taft Elementary, said she has used English immersion techniques with foreign-speaking students for years and said the district’s proposal makes a lot of sense.

Tuchman, a Tustin school-board member and a member of the National Advisory and Coordinating Council on Bilingual Education, said bilingual education is unnecessary because most children can do well in classes where only English is spoken. Bilingual education is especially unfair to Spanish-speaking students, who are given less chance to learn English than their counterparts with other native languages, she said.

She said that about two years ago the Tustin school district adopted a formal policy favoring English-only teaching for the district’s 400 limited-English students.

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