Immigrant Students : Summer Schools Stress English, Americana

Times Staff Writer

The group of high school students on a walking tour of Glendale last week hailed from countries as distant and dissimilar as Korea, Iran, El Salvador and Vietnam.

Equipped with city maps, the students listened attentively as Glendale teacher Carolyn Anderson-Meadows gave capsule descriptions of such local landmarks as the City Hall, police station and library. They said their biggest kick was visiting Glendale's 240-store Galleria, where they stopped for soft drinks at a McDonald's.

They could be a typical group of foreign tourists, but these young people will not be leaving anytime soon. They now live in Glendale, and their tour guide was a social studies teacher showing them how to make themselves at home in a new country.

The students are some of the Glendale Unified School District's 6,000 immigrant children, from kindergartners through seniors in high school. This summer, the district is offering two programs to help them catch up with their classmates who speak fluent English.

English, 'School Skills'

More than 60 students, all with less than a year in the United States, are in a federally funded summer English and social studies program at Daily High School. And, at Columbus Elementary School, 17 Spanish-speaking preschoolers are being prepared for kindergarten by being taught colors, shapes and numbers, as well as "school skills" such as how to stand in lines, take turns and share, which many English-speaking children learn in preschools.

Unlike the bilingual program during the regular school year, when a variety of subjects are taught, the emphasis in the summer program is on English and the American way of life.

"For immigrants, it is not just learning English," said Alice Petrossian, director of the school district's Intercultural Office. "There are adjustments to American culture and life style. . . . They learn about us through our schools."

International Forum

The number of immigrant students has transformed the school population, once predominantly native-born, into an international forum. Since 1976, the first year such records were collected, the percentage of students in the district who do not speak English has risen from 6% to more than 30%.

A district survey compiled this spring showed that Glendale students speak 62 languages. Nearly half of the 19,000 students in the district speak a language other than English at home, district records show.

School districts throughout the state are charged with teaching foreign-born students the English language, as well as American customs.

An American culture course used in the high school's four-hour-a-day summer program teaches U.S. geography and history, in addition to everyday habits and customs such as personal hygiene, courtesy, dating, making and keeping appointments and the work ethic.

Receipts Explained

On a field trip to the Galleria, Anderson-Meadows held up a receipt and a tablecloth she was returning to the Mervyn's department store because it is the wrong size.

"You need this receipt," she told her students as she made the exchange. "Then the store will know that you bought it here."

In Joan Davis' English-as-a-second-language summer class, the students move quickly from one exercise to the next, with Davis employing the energy of a showman afraid to lose his audience.

One morning, students were asked to fill in verbs needed to describe pictures Davis had cut from magazines. They also sang a song about hot dogs: "Have you ever had a hot dog with mustard and ketchup, lettuce and onions, cabbage and pickle? Have you ever had a hot dog with pepper and salt?"

The English taught at Daily employs no textbooks. There are no repetitive drills and no references to grammatical parts of speech. The technique is called the natural method. "With the natural method we use pictures, props, clues," Davis explained. "We manipulate and play with the language, try to get them to communicate with each other."

In Anderson-Meadows' classroom, there is one bulletin board covered with birthday cards to Uncle Sam, made by students for the Fourth of July. On the same wall are collages made from photographs that were cut from magazines. The topic is "The American Dream." Among the aspirations written on the pieces of brightly colored construction paper: "Have a nice car and go up in life."

The students' ideas of going up in life, their bulletin board project shows, include careers as artists, rock singers, chefs, teachers and astronauts.

Armenian Student

Adolph Amarkarean, an 11th-grader who will enter Glendale High School in fall, has been in the United States about three weeks. He is an Armenian whose family has lived in France and Austria since leaving their native Iran a year ago.

"I plan to go to college and study aircraft design," he said. "We couldn't study that or things like computer programming in Iran."

Depending on background and natural ability, it can take two to three years before students become proficient in English, Davis said. Help comes from a group of aides who go from class to class and among them can speak six languages: Spanish, Armenian, Korean, Vietnamese, Arabic and Persian.

When school officials need interpreters to speak with students and parents, the district staff finds them, no matter how exotic the language, Petrossian said. Bilingual district employees who work as secretaries, nurses and counselors often interpret for parents needing information on registration and immunization requirements.

Search for Interpreters

But occasionally, Petrossian said, her workers must contact churches, clubs or a country's consul general to find interpreters.

Although interpreters are available to enroll students, no classroom interpreters are available for children speaking a language unknown to the teacher or aides--such as Russian, Navajo, Tongan or East Indian tongues such as Urdu and Marathi. Those children are left to struggle on their own.

"We try to comfort them" with gestures and facial expressions, said Davis. "There's going to be a certain period of time where you just sit there. We try to make it as comfortable emotionally as possible. We have them look at pictures, gestures and teach them the sound that goes with it. It's the way a baby learns to speak."

Petrossian said the school district must apply each year for the federal grants that support the summer programs and thus cannot be sure the classes will be offered next year. Besides, the demand exceeds the program's resources. More than 300 seventh- and eighth-graders applied for 64 openings this summer.

Experimental Program

The eight-week summer project for preschoolers at Columbus Elementary is a rehearsal for an experimental, federally funded program that will begin this fall. It is designed to teach Spanish-speaking students, the district's largest minority, the social and conceptual skills needed to enter kindergarten.

The students will be taught only a few words in English this summer, said program supervisor Lily Ogden. First, they will learn important concepts in Spanish, "such as getting in line, recognizing their names and sitting in desks," Ogden said. "The Anglo, or English-speaking students, many of them, have learned these concepts already."

Petrossian said that, for some students from Central America and the Middle East, where war has disrupted school systems, learning English and adjusting to life in the United States can take five to eight years.

Salvadoran Youth

Miguel Granillo, 18, is a comparative old-timer in Glendale, having arrived in September from San Vicente, El Salvador. He will be a senior this fall. Summer school, he said, could be the key to success later at Glendale Community College, which he would like to attend.

As for the part of the summer course that stresses American customs, he appeared to need little help. He wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the name of a rock band Judas Priest. Spotting a friend, he exchanged a soul handshake.

His favorite part of the United States so far? "The Galleria and video arcades."

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