The Los Angeles School Board has moved boldly to expand a showcase program for educating children who speak little or no English. The students, mostly Latino, will take basic courses in their own language so that they don’t fall behind in fundamentals while they are learning English. The program will cost $20 million, including bonus money to attract top-flight bilingual teachers to Los Angeles schools.

The plan, drawn up by Assistant Supt. Ramiro Garcia, builds on a solid program established in 1982 at Eastman Avenue Elementary School in East Los Angeles. Half of Eastman’s students speak no English, and so they are taught mathematics, science, social studies and reading in Spanish. They are taught art, music and physical education along with the English-speaking students, studying English as a foreign language.

The Eastman approach was expanded to seven other schools two years ago, and it has shown results in higher test scores.

School board member Leticia Quezada told her colleagues how difficult her school experiencewas after she first immigrated from Mexico at the age of 13. She could neither speak nor understand English, and she, like the children today who are simply thrown into English-only classes, ran the risk of falling behind in her studies. It is to prevent that frustration, that potential for dropping out, that this language plan has been devised. Most of the students to be benefited by the new program will be Spanish-speaking youngsters, but the plan calls for expanding programs that help immigrants who speak other languages.

Critics of this approach say that it segregates the children who are being taught in their own language and slows down the youngsters’ ability to learn English. Far from being segregation, this bilingual approach gives students the special attention that they need and speeds the day5446964211918985081programs.

Now that the board has established its policy on the preferred classroom approach, it must secure the money for the program, set to begin next school year. The plan is for about half the $20 million to come from the district’s general budget and half from state integration money. The state bilingual program lapsed last year, and the Legislature and governor haven’t agreed on any new approaches themselves. So the least that Sacramento can do is help the district with the largest need, especially now that it is trying to help itself.

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