Legislator: Immersion failed
Method didn't teach her college Spanish, state senator says
By John J. Sanko, Rocky Mountain News
October 22, 2002
Spanish immersion didn't work for State Sen. Sue Windels as a young woman and
she doesn't think non-English-speaking
youngsters should be pushed into English-immersion classes, either.
The Arvada Democrat shared her experiences as she joined fellow Democrats and
Republicans at the Colorado Capitol Monday to urge voters to reject Amendment 31
on Nov. 5.
The measure would eliminate bilingual education from Colorado's public schools
and replace it with English immersion, which supporters believe will teach the
estimated 70,000 non-English-speaking students how to speak English in a year.
Windels admitted she thought immersion was the way for her to quickly learn
Spanish many years ago, so she enrolled in Spanish-speaking-only classes at the
University of Guadalajara, Mexico, and lived with a Spanish-speaking family.
After two weeks, with tests looming in her classes, she readily admitted it
wasn't working, she said.
"I knew I wanted to learn Spanish, and when I was in college I really believed
in immersion," she said. "But I'll tell you after about two weeks of playing
charades with the family I lived with and a test that was coming up, I knew I
was in deep
"Immersion wasn't working. I needed something else. It was through an
English-speaking tutor that I started acquiring the Spanish language. It wasn't
that I was just fully immersed in it that I was going to soak it up."
Others participating at the news conference included Gully Stanford, a State
Board of Education member who is leading the fight against the measure. Stanford
said the support of so many people who are on different sides of other issues or
races should send a strong message.
"I am delighted to say that if there is one thing that a number of our competing
candidates can agree upon, it is that Amendment 31 is a fatally flawed
constitutional amendment," Stanford said.
That includes Gov. Bill Owens and his Democratic opponent, Rollie Heath; 1st
Congressional District opponents Diana DeGette and Ken Chlouber; 7th
Congressional District opponents Mike Feeley and Bob Beauprez; and two 4th
Congressional District foes - Senate President Stan Matsunaka, D-Loveland, and
Sen. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Fort Collins.
"She originally supported it, but she has reviewed it carefully and now has some
problems with it," said Musgrave campaign manager Guy Short.
Rita Montero, the former Denver school board member who is leading the drive to
get Amendment 31 approved, said she wishes critics would look at the record of
bilingual education programs.
"All I can say is they're headed down the wrong path," Montero said. "Bilingual
education has been in place in Colorado for 20 years and it has been a complete
"There is no proof in terms of academic achievement that it has worked anywhere.
They just want to keep the status quo," she said.
Others participating in the Capitol news conference included Attorney General
Ken Salazar; Rep. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs; Sen. Pat Pascoe, D-Denver,
chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee; Rep. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial,
chairwoman of the House Education Committee; and Randy DeHoff, chairman of the
State Board of Education.
Salazar said he has several concerns with Amendment 31, including the fact "it
takes away the choice of parents" who may want their children in bilingual
"It doesn't accomplish what I think we all want to do: We want to make sure our
children are learning English," Salazar said. "I don't think Amendment 31 does
Spence said she believes each school district should determine what is best for
"Amendment 31 is the wrong solution for the problem we have in teaching kids
English," she said.
Pascoe said educators are "already sharply focused on teaching English to the
students who speak another language. The writers of Colorado's Constitution
wisely left the design of curriculum to the locally elected school board," she
King said only 11 of Colorado's 178 school districts use bilingual programs.
"My opposition to this also stems from the fact that we are saying one size fits
all in how we're going to educate students to gain English-acquisition skills,"
"Some students have more linguistic ability than other students, just as some
students have more math ability than other students."
SankoJ@RockyMountainNews.com or (303) 892-5404