School starts with added jitters

Year-round school kicks off with first-day chaos and worry over Prop. 227 requirements.

ANAHEIM – First-day jitters fluttered through Franklin Elementary on Tuesday as the first day of school – year-round school – began.

Kindergartners, butterflies in their stomachs, wore blinding white shirts, navy dresses, blue pants and shiny new shoes.

Teachers led kids through a dizzying labyrinth of classrooms and new schedules. Lost children were rushed to the right classes to beat bells that never rang.

And a wail echoed as mommies slipped away.

“Adios,” said Principal Patsy Tafolla, patting parents on the shoulder. “Les va a ir bien. No se preocupen (They’ll be fine, don’t worry),” she assured them.

But beneath the familiar first-day chaos was an undercurrent of anxiety that bubbled up at unexpected moments. For Tuesday was the first day of classes since the passage of Proposition 227, which requires teaching to be mostly in English.

Julie Hernandez, a student teacher from California State University, Fullerton, gasped and covered her mouth after she used Spanish to help a student find her desk.

“Can I still speak Spanish?” Hernandez asked apologetically.

Her mentor teacher Robin Whates answered quickly: “Sure, especially if she doesn’t understand you in English.”

Elaine Crueger laid down the rules for her kindergarten class: Ask permission to go to the bathroom. Raise your hand. Share.

Her bilingual aide, Lilian Barragan, repeated the rules in Spanish.

“Now, will all the girls stand up,” Crueger said, waving her palms in the air.

Three girls stood up out of a room of 20 kids evenly divided between boys and girls.

Barragan repeated the instructions in Spanish. Then all the girls rose – and one boy sat down when he saw himself in the wrong crowd.

Among the parents, there was also some concern about language – but not necessarily about Prop 227.

Jansy Avelar, mother of first-grader John Duarte, made a beeline for her son’s new teacher, DeAnne Tolman, before the afternoon classes started.

“Please look after him. He only understands a little English – a few words,” Avelar said. She explained that they had just come back from El Salvador, where they stayed with John’s father.

“I don’t think he’s nervous. I’m just a little worried,” she said.

Down the road, at Loara Elementary, first-day traumas were similar, even without the staggered schedule.

Principal Bob Gardner stepped in for a late crossing guard. The dairy company rushed to deliver the milk, because they forgot it was the first day of school.

“We’re busy putting out our little fires here … I haven’t heard anything about (Prop.) 227,” Gardner said.

“The district plans to abide by the law, but we can’t just jump in and start teaching English-immersion without a plan,” said Gardner.

One problem is books: Last year, the district bought new Spanish-English textbooks for kindergarten through third grade, and there’s no money for new reading books this year. Officials estimate that a conversion to English-immersion could cost the district as much as $300,000 in new teaching materials.

The state board decided last month that year-round schools could start implementing English-immersion after the first “term,” or grading period.

Gardner walked from class to class collecting the final tallies of kids who made it for the first day.

“We’re just thinking about getting past today,” he said.

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