Students soak up lessons in school's bilingual classes
By Sarah Krupp
CONTRA COSTA TIMES
Oct. 20, 2002
PITTSBURG - The students listen closely to every word their
teacher says as they creep around a circle of kid-size chairs.
She calls out: "Lento ... luna ... leer ... lio ... lechuga ... lazo ...
At calabaza, the Spanish word for "squash," they scurry to find a
This is just one of the methods Vanessa CÚspedes, a first-grade
teacher, uses to teach her students what Spanish letters sound
and look like. Foothill Elementary School teachers CÚspedes and
Eva Steffani are instructing the first bilingual classes at the
Pittsburg Unified School District since 1998, when Proposition 227
limited non-English instruction in California schools.
Before the law changed, students who were not fluent in English
were automatically placed in bilingual classes, unless a parent
disapproved. Now, the reverse is true. But the catch is, by law,
schools must offer parents the choice of alternative classes.
The classes are part of the district's efforts to come into
compliance with the law and improve its services for students
The district is still improving its alternative program. The district
has not purchased a complete set of texts for the new classes, so
workbooks and readers scavenged from leftover supplies are
mismatched. There aren't any bilingual classes at the middle or
high school yet. District officials say there is not enough interest.
Hector Rico, Foothill Elementary's new principal, is working with
the district staff to expand the number of bilingual classes offered.
He says that bilingual education done right means that fewer
students fall behind and founder because they lack the
knowledge and skills they need. Instead, he contends, they learn
the standards just as their English-speaking peers do, while
acquiring the English language.
He speaks from personal and professional experience. Rico
worked as a consultant for the state Department of Education
monitoring school districts like Pittsburg that didn't comply with
laws governing instruction to students learning English as a
second language. He placed his daughter, now a sixth-grader, in
a dual-immersion program. She is succeeding and knows two
languages well, he says.
Critics, however, argue that immersion in English, especially at a
young age, is the best way for immigrants and students growing
up in a non-English-speaking home to learn the language quickly.
That argument was the impetus for Prop. 227.
Philosophies aside, students in the two Foothill Elementary
classes seem to soak up their daily lessons.
In the kindergarten class, Steffani reads stories in Spanish, the
students practice different vowel sounds and color a worksheet
with pictures of things that start with the letter p (pronounced
pay in Spanish).
A tiny 5-year-old, clad entirely in pink, writes her first name easily
when a visitor asks her how to spell it -- L-a-u-r-a.
Liliam Rubio placed her daughter Catalina in the bilingual
kindergarten class so she could speak with her relatives in
Colombia and understand her culture.
"I don't just want her to be able to speak (Spanish), I want her to
be able to write it, read it, everything," Rubio said.
So far, the class is going well. Already, Catalina's pronunciation
has improved, and she comes home singing songs in Spanish.
Reach Sarah Krupp at 925-779-7166 or firstname.lastname@example.org.