AURORA – Two years ago, Fernando Enriquez couldn’t speak English, let alone read it.
Yet Friday, the 7-year-old boy was reading to Gov. Bill Owens – in English.
‘It’s really exciting to see what you’ve done,’ Owens told teachers at Montview Elementary, where he visited to view the results of the school’s year-old English-immersion program.
Most students arrive at Montview and other urban schools speaking little or no English. Aurora’s Hispanic population nearly quadrupled in the past decade, dramatically increasing the number of non-English-speaking students, particularly in the northern part of the city.
It’s taxing when the Colorado Student Assessment Program tests roll around each year. Students at Montview may have made tremendous progress, Principal Debbie Backus told Owens, but it’s not reflected in test scores.
‘I’m absolutely encouraged he took time to see a school with great challenges. We wanted him to see we’re not failing these children,’ said Backus, principal at Montview for 12 years. ‘I’m sure we’ll be disappointed when we get the CSAP report card.’
Montview will be lucky to get a ‘D’ rating when the results come back, Backus said, making it difficult to attract and keep teachers.
Still, educators at Montview are inspired by the prospect of teaching at a school where 60 percent of students speak English as a second language, Backus said. Those students start behind everyone else, but learn more in a year than their counterparts, she said.
Credit goes to the school’s English program, said Al McGregor, a Hispanic businessman who works closely with the school. Hispanic students have the intelligence to succeed, he said, and programs that stress learning English immediately help them do just that.
‘It’s incredible the way these kids learn English so fast,’ said McGregor. ‘It’s not just helping Hispanics. It’s helping the whole community.’
At Montview, students are taught using English from the moment they walk into kindergarten. This ‘immersion’ helps them learn faster than dual-language programs, McGregor said, and should be implemented at other schools in Aurora and Denver.
Owens said he was impressed with the program and the dedication of teachers at the school.
‘I know it’s not Ozzie and Harriet out there anymore, but we have to deal with the cards we’re dealt,’ Owens said. ‘It think you’re doing a good job of that.’