Dist. 54 second-language instruction not needed so early

As parents of fourth- and sixth-graders at Enders-Salk Elementary School, we were already greatly concerned about Spanish as a Second Language being added to our curriculum, and shared our concerns with our principal last June. Reluctantly, and under protest, we agreed to allow our children to participate, having no viable alternatives. Recent Daily Herald headlines stating, “State math scores better, but reading, writing slip” (Sept. 5); and, “Students’ test results disappointing” (Sept. 7), have only enhanced our concern and strengthened our disapproval, and prompts us to share our concerns and opinions publicly with our community and governing bodies.

We agree a second language can be valuable to a student’s future employment in certain business sectors, although the opportunity to acquire this in junior high, high school and college is soon enough.

If this were offered as an extra-curricular option, or as a curriculum enhancement for those students already exceeding state standards, we would certainly welcome it. Our main concern is the 90 minutes per week it will take out of the existing curriculum.

Although this point was addressed by district personnel during an information session at our school, we are not convinced that it’s wise to take even a small portion of the “language block” of time now spent learning English grammar, writing and communication skills in order to implement SSL, which is conversational – not grammatical, and not graded.

A strong knowledge of the English language is much more crucial to a child’s future success in the business world than the acquisition of a second language. Equally, improved math and science knowledge would be more beneficial than a second language, as well. If we can truly spare 90 minutes a week, perhaps our students would be better served with increased time in those two subjects instead.

Yes, the rest of the industrialized world teaches elementary school students a second language, so our government says we should, too, and is handing out hefty grants for it. But the second language being taught in the rest of the world is most often English. Likewise, the predominant language of global business is English.

As for the social aspects touted by our district, the children would enjoy the variety this adds to their day, and would appreciate being able to communicate with the growing Hispanic population of their school. We see where this could have a positive social impact, but are more than a little concerned that “social” was the No. 1 reason listed on the district’s presentation.

Citizens learning a foreign language in order to enhance the social atmosphere in elementary schools, at the expense of other, more important elementary curriculum, shouldn’t be a necessity. We blame this necessity on our government, for devising yet another way to accommodate immigrants by further eliminating the need to acquire the common language of our country.

It’s difficult to know which “education experts” to believe when it comes to language acquisition. Our state mandates that limited English-proficient, native-Spanish students have to be in a self- contained, transitional bilingual education program (instead of English immersion), because they have to be literate in their native language before we can expect them to acquire a second language.

Then we implement dual-language and SSL, where native-English students will be immersed in a second language starting in kindergarten, and we’re told the best way to acquire a second language is through immersion; we are also told that young children can acquire a second language more readily.

Aren’t these direct contradictions? Which is factual? I suppose it depends on what idea you’re trying to support (or sell) or which grant you have available to spend. It seems Californians figured out that bilingual education was teaching their children just enough to work at McDonalds. Now that it’s been abolished, test scores are improving in leaps and bounds, and many states are considering similar plans (not Illinois).

Yet our federal government recently quadrupled the budget for bilingual education. Our district, and our government, is only “immersed” in one thing: smokescreens, double-speak, and confusion. No surprise here.

Many changes have occurred at our children’s school over the last several years, without parent community input or awareness, such as the decisions to make our school a bilingual “center,” and to implement a dual language program. At the time, we didn’t concern ourselves with it too much; it didn’t directly affect our kids.

In hindsight, we now realize there was a direct effect – in the subtle shift in our administrations’ focus and priorities, changing staff, etc. If we’d seen the writing on the wall, we could have made choices then that are not feasible now. This time we were notified, even given the opportunity to choose, which we are grateful for.

We believe our principal made an honest attempt to get community consensus this time, yet it missed the mark. Notices to parents were misleading, and insinuated overwhelming support to implement the SSL program. Was this intentional? Probably not, but in a school with frequent evidence of parental apathy toward written communiques, be it a flyer, PTA newsletter, or other announcement, no response does not necessarily equate to a show of support.

Notices about the SSL program could have been more concise and straightforward, yet they were written in a way that probably caused many recipients to merely scan them or not read past the first paragraph. And why was our “new educational program” not mentioned in the Daily Herald article about new programs in District 54 schools? (Aug. 31)

We believe if more parents had understood, and openly shared their concerns, we would now have more viable educational options available for our children. District 54 loves to brag about the choices available to its students. Last spring we thought we would have a choice, too. But we didn’t, not really, and only found out the week before school started.

It’s too late now to attempt to ask our district and school team to reconsider how this will be implemented, or to make sure parents were truly aware; the lessons start Sept. 17.

A final note to our district administrators: Next time the “opportunity” for a new program is available to “enhance” the education of our students, give it to the school with a majority of students who already exceed our state’s standards. Only then is it truly an enhancement.



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