Students in bilingual grade school get basics twice

This year the students in the bilingual program at John D. Spreckels School in San Diego are getting a double dose of everything. The school is trying a new approach: Each bilingual classroom is mixed ethnically, and students learn basic skills in two languages. The language for half of the day is English, and the rest of the day is devoted to learning in Spanish. Spreckels has served as a bilingual magnet within the district's racial integration program since September 1978. Two hundred children are bused daily to the school on the north edge of the city from 25 other school areas.

According to Dr. Norman Gold, head of the state's bilingual education program , there are 431,000 limited-English-speaking students in the school population of California. In San Diego, 19.7 percent are non-English speaking. Spanish is the predominant non-English language spoken.

Bilingual education in California and elsewhere has become a controversial issue. Even those who favor bilingual education are divided. Some support maintenance programs, in which both languages receive equal importance, and others espouse a transitional approach in which English-as-a-second-language students discontinue studying in their native langauge as soon as they are linguistically capable of learning in English.

''Here at Spreckels we have a maintenance philosophy,'' principal Leonard Kidd says. ''We have been provided resources for our program by the board, in spite of their opposition philosophically. Their approach is more transitional. Both of our philosophies have the same goal at the end of the road, but we prefer to give the non-English speaker a more solid foundation in Spanish.''

All 12 bilingual classes are teamed, with one Spanish teacher and one English teacher. Becky D'Aoust, who grew up attending a bilingual school in Argentina, teaches the Spanish part of a third-fourth grade class. She finds that math is especially easy for her English speakers to do in Spanish.

''Our approach in Spanish is quite different from the way it is done in English here,'' says Ms. D'Aoust. ''It's very visual. Since we were originally without workbooks, we did problems through pictures. For example, drawing pictures of sets and then multiplying seems to enhance math comprehension. I like the pictorial approach. It's more than just computation.''

Sixth-grade teacher Ivelise Druit says that her students are solving decimal problems in both languages. She believes that the thinking process becomes more creative when students study in a second language. ''They gain more ways to attack a problem,'' she comments.

Lydia Stevens, a second-third grade teacher from Peru, explains that her students learn basic computational skills from two points of view. ''For example ,'' she says, ''when doing subtraction the children learn the English 'take-away' method and they also learn the Spanish langauge method of adding a leftover digit to the bottom figure.''

Reading programs are based on the child's knowledge of the language. The 56 first and second graders taught by Cecilia Fernandez are divided into six Spanish reading groups. These same children are divided into six groups for English reading instruction, under the guidance of Rachael Rodriguez.

''Obviously, a program such as ours places a tremendous workload on the teachers,'' says program director Henry Nakasone. ''But teachers believe the children are learning the second langauge quickly. It's especially important for us to consider the value of second language acquisition for the native English speaker. Here in California Spanish is increasingly practical for employment purposes. And there's a definite national movement to reinstate foreign language requirements. We feel our kids will have a head start.''

Socialization among children from different language backgrounds is evident in all grade levels. For some Spreckels area residents this aspect of the program is as important as the language aspect. Valerie Bauer, whose son John is a sixth grader, says, ''What hooked me on the program was specifically the opportunity for social relationships. This is a human experience I cannot provide for John at home. Now, I could put him in a Spanish class somewhere and he would learn Spanish, but that wouldn't be the same.''

A relaxed, friendly atmosphere in the classroom encourages positive feelings among the mixed groups in the program. Cecilia Fernandez generally begins the day by saying, ''Dame una sonrisa'' (''Give me a smile'') to any child who comes in without a cheerful grin. Her warmth seems typical of the teachers at Spreckels. Their friendliness sets a positive tone for social integration.

Henry Nakasone reports that some fast friendships have blossomed between residents and bused children. ''And,'' he adds, ''when we have student body elections, the voting goes across ethnic and program lines.''

Teachers like the mixed groups. Becky D'Aoust says that each group has an identity as a class in which equal value is given to both languages. ''Since culture is inherent in language, an appreciation for other people is assimilated. This is especially true when the groups are well integrated,'' she comments.

Sixth grader John Bauer learns about Hispanic culture from social studies packets designed espcially for that purpose, as well as from classmates and language study. While John feels that the program is often difficult, he thinks that spending a half-day in Spanish has increased his comprehension tremendously. ''Somewhere around November or December I realized I was really understanding,'' he says.

Teachers frequently comment that students who struggle with the second language initially begin to get acclimated after a few months of immersion. While language acquisition is an individual matter, those children who remain in the bilingual program at Spreckels will have the opportunity to become bilingual/biliterate students.

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