Ginny Kalish teaches at Palomino Elementary School in Paradise Valley Unified School District. She was named 1999 Teacher of the Year by the Arizona Educational Foundation.
As Arizona Teacher of the Year, I am frequently asked what is the best advice for parents. Numerous studies all point to the same thing: Get involved in your child’s education. We have only to look at recent headlines to see the results if you don’t.
There is an initiative being circulated in Arizona that wants to take away parental choice and local control. English for the Children – Arizona wants to prohibit schools from using bilingual teaching methods.
First, let’s establish that we all want the same thing: for our schools to produce successful, productive citizens who are completely literate in English. English for the Children’s “one size fits all” approach requires that all English language learners be taught, for one year, in classrooms where the emphasis is on learning English.
After this year of English immersion, these students are put into mainstream classes. Unless they are willing to allow the recent English-learners to fall further behind, their teachers will have to slow down instruction for the native English speakers, which would create a new set of problems.
When I first started teaching content using Spanish, it was because teachers at Palomino Elementary School saw that their students were not succeeding.
In my first class of second-graders, only four students out of 25 knew how to read. I spent the first nine weeks teaching them the sounds of the alphabet. Now that students are being taught content in their first language while they are learning English, the ratio has been reversed. I receive perhaps four students out of 25 who cannot read.
One of these students, Edith, came to my second-grade class from Mexico having never been to school before. I taught her to read in her first language, and she slowly caught up to, and then surpassed, her classmates. In third grade, she won an award in the state poetry contest. As she has transitioned to English, she has not fallen behind her English-speaking classmates.
On the other side of the coin is a young man, Arturo, who just completed second grade with me. He has been at Palomino since kindergarten. His oral English is very good. His academic achievements are outstanding. I witnessed how these skills transferred to English. Toward the end of the year, Arturo selected an English story he had never seen before to read to me. He read it perfectly. Arturo is now ready for instruction in English all day.
Our goal must be to teach students to learn English as quickly as possible, but without sacrificing their ability to learn other subjects, which is what a good bilingual program does.
Fellow Arizonans, whether you are a skeptic or a believer in bilingual education, please do not take away the choice from parents and local schools. Even if bilingual programs are more expensive in the short term, the investment now reaps untold dollars in the future when these students become productive members of society.
By rejecting English for Children – Arizona, we will not be mandating that students be enrolled in bilingual classes throughout their schooling or against their parents’ wishes. Rather, it will provide the option of using the students’ first language as a transitional tool, so that when the non-English speakers are fluent enough in English to learn new concepts in substantive subject areas, they will not be three to four years behind their native English- speaking peers.
Both Gov. Jane Hull and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan have expressed the hope that Arizona will avoid the destructive effects of the initiative. I share their sentiments. Current Arizona law allows parents to remove their children from a bilingual program upon request. Let’s continue to allow our parents the right to do what they think is best for their children.