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July 02, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, July 02, 2004

Castro offers extra English Castro offers extra English (July 02, 2004)

Accelerated class aims to bring students up to grade-level proficiency

By Julie O'Shea

In response to the large number of students who aren't English-proficient, Castro School plans to offer an intensive, accelerated language development class, starting this fall.

Critics of the school's controversial Spanish-English dual immersion program -- where native English speakers and native Spanish speakers study together and learn each others' languages -- say they hope this new course will help struggling students succeed, but they aren't holding their breath.

The class will be open only to third-grade students classified as English Language Learners who need extra help mastering their language skills. School officials say the class will use a format similar to Castro's dual immersion program but with one key difference: literacy lessons will be taught in Spanish while instruction for all other courses will be done in English. Also, if the teacher sees students not understanding lesson instructions in English, she can repeat them in Spanish.

The thought here, Associate Superintendent Eleanor Yick explained, is to give students, struggling to understand English, context to what they are learning. After all, Yick noted, if a child doesn't understand English, they can't be expected to do well in an English-based education system.

However, Marilu Delgado, an advocate of the Spanish-speaking parent community, said the school district has tried unsuccessfully for years to get Castro's English Language Learners up to grade level. Delgado said she likes the concept of the new accelerated English development class but is concerned this won't be the extra push students need.

Part of the problem, Delgado claimed, is that Castro students are segregated from the rest of the Mountain View-Whisman student body. She said she'd like to see Castro students improving their English skills by becoming pen pals with students at another Mountain View-Whisman school.

A year ago, an independent audit found that children at the Escuela Avenue campus "are not able to articulate what they are supposed to know," and the Castro staff doesn't hold "high academic expectations for all students." Currently, parents can either put their children in the school's dual immersion program or in an English only-classroom.

Last September, district officials tried to cut the dual-language program in half in an effort to create an equal balance of native English to native Spanish speakers. The sudden announcement angered parents and teachers, who claim they were blindsided by the news. And district officials put brakes on the plan, saying they needed another year to implement such a radical change.

Yick said kindergarten enrollment for this fall's dual-immersion classes have close to an equal balance of native English and Spanish speakers.

A four-week summer school program held at Castro will focus on getting children up to speed on their language skills. Alicia Henderson, this year's summer school principal, said students, identified by their teachers as needing extra help with English, were invited to attend the program.

"We clearly have a need," Henderson said. There are around 400 students enrolled in summer school this year.

"We needed to make some changes," Yick agreed. A goal of this new fall offering is to help students reach grade-level English proficiency as quickly as possible, she added.

"It's providing support for students," she said. "I need to give them a transition."

Castro's dual immersion program used a new model last year, wherein kindergarteners spend 75 percent of the school day learning in Spanish, and are taught the remainder in English. Each year the balance shifts, so that by the time children reach the third grade, there is an even 50-50 split of Spanish and English lessons.

The school had previously used a 90-10 model, where kindergarteners spent 90 percent of the day speaking in Spanish and the rest in English.

E-mail Julie O'Shea at [email protected]

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