Original URL: http://www.southcoasttoday.com/daily/11-02/11-03-02/b01sr052.htm
Understanding question 2
After graduating from New Bedford High School in 1978, Ms. Marques went on to
earn a bachelor's degree in business
She still credits the bilingual program with helping her adjust to her new
surroundings and learn English without feeling
Yet, while others who studied in bilingual classes agree that they helped to ease the transition into a new country, not all of their sentiments are as positive as Ms. Marques'.
The Rev. Gabriel Fabian, a Baptist minister who was a substitute teacher in New Bedford schools for three years, said that from what he has seen, the current bilingual system does not work.
The debate over the value of bilingual education has prompted a statewide
referendum on its fate. On Nov. 5, voters will decide whether to keep the
current system or to implement a one-year "sheltered immersion" program.
Under the current system, students are gradually introduced to English while
learning other subjects in their native tongue, and generally enter regular
classes within three years. Under sheltered immersion, non-English speaking
students would be taught school subjects in English from the very beginning,
with minimal use of a native language. Ideally, the students would be
transferred to mainstream (English-only) classes after one year.
The sheltered immersion initiative is financially backed by California
millionaire Ron Unz, who successfully spearheaded similar initiatives in
California in 1998 and in Arizona 2000. He and his supporters maintain that the
current system has failed many students by keeping them in non-English speaking
classes with teachers who are sometimes unqualified.
While immersion proponents say that many students are capable of learning
much more quickly than the current bilingual system allows, they acknowledge
that it might be more difficult for older students. For this reason, waivers
could be granted for children who are older than 10 or who have special needs,
which would allow them to take traditional bilingual classes.
In New Bedford and Fall River, where a combined 1,450 students are in
Portuguese and Spanish bilingual classes, teachers and administrators fear that
a one-year program would lead to frustration and failure. Besides adding strain
"Any research shows that it takes three to five years to learn a language,"
said Richard Pavao, superintendent of Fall River schools and former director of
the city's bilingual education program. He added that passage of the referendum
Others, meanwhile, cautioned that other factors might have been at work, such
as a reduction in class sizes and a tendency to teach skills specifically
targeted in standardized exams. They maintain that more time to evaluate the
"The Unz program has given students a lot of verbal skills, which can be
learned quite quickly," Mr. Pavao said. "It'll take more time to see how well
they are learning in other areas."
In New Bedford, a program similar to sheltered immersion already exists. An
English-as-a-Second-Language class at the city's Winslow Elementary School is
composed of students from Pakistan, Poland, Russia and China -- countries
Teacher Maria Santos said most students stay in ESL classes for two to three
years before being mainstreamed. She said that because the pace of instruction
is slower than in regular classes, students are often a little behind when they
leave ESL. Ms. Santos believes that one year in a sheltered classroom is not
"They would still be behind when they enter a mainstream classroom," she
said. "For a few of these students, it was traumatic to leave their country, and
sometimes they are dealing with that during the first year. Having to go to a
Bilingual teachers, meanwhile, fear that by ending bilingual classes,
students might feel lost in larger classes, rather than welcome and comfortable
in small bilingual groups. Julie Neal, a second-grade bilingual teacher at
Hayden-McFadden Elementary School, encourages her students to use English, but
allows them to express themselves in English or Spanish. She said she fears that
a transition to a mainstream classroom would be detrimental to several of her
students who struggle with English, who might not find the support they need in
a mainstream class.
While they enjoy learning with the help of their native language, "their
smiles might be lost in a regular classroom," Ms. Neal said. She added that in
the bilingual classes, students are encouraged to speak about their heritage and
to feel proud, which she does not think would happen in mainstream classes.
Those in favor of one-year immersion, meanwhile, say that schools should focus
on teaching students English and placing them into mainstream classrooms as
quickly as possible. Lincoln Tamayo, the head of the campaign for English
immersion in Massachusetts and a Cuban immigrant, said that while he
wholeheartedly endorses teaching foreign languages and celebrating cultural
heritage, English needs to be emphasized.
"This would be a richer country if everyone knew more than one language," Mr.
Tamayo said. "But we've got to give students the ability to defend themselves in
the language that is used here." He added that the immersion program would allow
for small amounts of the native language to be used when needed to explain more
difficult concepts, and that small amounts could be incorporated into lessons
pertaining to culture.
Even among bilingual education advocates, most would not argue that the
current system has its problems. Alicia Fabian, the Rev. Fabian's wife, who
taught a fifth-grade bilingual class last year, noted that simultaneous
pressures to teach
Yet Ms. Fabian and most others say that the one-year sheltered immersion is
not the solution, and state lawmakers seem to agree. In hopes of pre-empting the
referendum, a reform measure was passed in July that would put a limit on the
amount of time students could remain in bilingual classes in exchange for
mandatory yearly testing. If the referendum does not pass, the reform would take
place next fall.
State Rep. Antonio F. D. Cabral of New Bedford said the reform should be
given a chance before more stringent measures are taken.
"The reform creates accountability on the part of the school system and the
student, which was not in place before," Rep. Cabral said. He added that under
the reform, parents would be given a significant role in drafting bilingual
programs, and schools would be allowed to choose which sort of bilingual program
is most appropriate for their students.
However, supporters of the one-year immersion dismiss the reform as an
attempt to hold onto a failed system.
Some who oppose the referendum say that many voters who are in favor of the
one-year immersion program do not fully understand how it would impact
Mr. Pavao said more support for the referendum would come from wealthier
suburbs than from cities, and that many of those who would be affected by the
change in law cannot vote. In California in 1998, exit polls indicated that most
white voters approved of the one-year immersion plan, while most Latino voters
did not. White voters, however, made up a much larger portion of voters than did
Latinos. Mr. Pavao added that sentiment toward foreigners post-Sept. 11, 2001,
Faced with the prospect of the referendum passing (current polls indicate that around 60 percent of voters statewide approve of it), some local Latino activists are trying to gather opposition to it prior to Nov. 5. Edwin Aldarondo, a member of the Hispanic Presence Committee, said the Unz initiative should not be implemented, given questionable data from California and lack of funds locally.