School Would Teach All Students Spanish, Then Phase In English

Edison may start "2-way" bilingual program

Edison Elementary School in Santa Monica may teach reading, writing and arithmetic in Spanish to all students in a new bilingual program that could start this fall.

The Two-Way Bilingual Emersion Education Proposal was drawn up by a 17-member Edison task force that was appointed by the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District to find alternatives to closing the school at 2425 Kansas Ave.

The task force, which presented its report to the school board Monday night, included parents, school board members and school officials. It was also charged with finding ways to raise scholastic test scores at Edison and improving the racial balance there.

Edison is in a predominantly Latino community near Pico Boulevard. It has an enrollment of 433 students, 288 of whom speak limited English and 85% of whom are minorities. Its test scores are consistently among the lowest in the district.

The Board of Education considered closing the school about a year and a half ago as part of an overall plan to improve racial balance in the district.

The task force instead recommended implementation of a program based on a bilingual education program that has been used for 10 years in San Diego. In the so-called “two-way” program, youngsters are taught Spanish first and English is phased in over time.

Under the proposal, 90% of all kindergarten and first-grade instruction would be offered in Spanish. In second and third grades, 80% of all instruction would be offered in Spanish. By fourth and fifth grades, instruction would be equally divided between the two languages with Spanish spoken in the morning and English in the afternoon. Throughout the program, English and Spanish would be taught separately by different teachers.

The task force’s 19-page report concludes that the benefits of the program lie in the fact that English-speaking students would learn Spanish and Spanish-speaking students would master their own language along with English. “A second language is more easily acquired when the primary language is highly developed,” the report states.

“The program produces totally bilingual and academically competitive students by about the sixth grade,” said Peggy Lyon, a school board member who lives in the Edison attendence area and called for creation of the task force. “It also provides the opportunity to help desegregate the school by drawing majority (white) or English-speaking students who can then have the opportunity to be (bilingual) — being able to think, learn, write and speak in another language.

“I think, given the nature of the demographic changes in Southern California, a non-Hispanic would enhance his employment possibilities and social relationships by becoming bilingual.”

The program is expected to cost $81,000 the first year for kindergarten and first grade and $208,000 when it expands to include all grades. Harold Connolly, the district’s supervisor of student curriculum, said that the district already has the money from state and federal sources. “It is just a matter of rearranging some priorities,” he said. Money is needed for busing, bilingual aides and program specialists, among others.

The bilingual program would be a district magnet program and the report says its success would depend on native English speakers constituting a third of the students.

At Monday’s meeting, school board President Richard Williams, a member of the task force, questioned the “degree to which parents of English-speaking children would be willing to risk putting their children in an entirely Spanish-speaking class.”

Vera Martinez, the task force chairwoman, said that the challenge is to sell the program as an important asset in Santa Monica, where one day the majority of the population will Latino.

“We believe we are not going to have people knocking down doors initially. . . . It could take at least five years,” she said.

The board is expected to vote on the proposal after receiving a report from its staff sometime next month.

The state Department of Education and UCLA, which has received a grant from the federal Office of Education Improvement and Research to establish a center for bilingual research and second-language education, has expressed interest in the concept.

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