Teachers, Foreign Students Learn From Each Other : English Program Puts Words to Actions

Times Staff Writer

When visitors peek into summer school classrooms at Crozier Junior High School, they are likely to see some pretty unusual things.

In one class, they might glimpse an elementary school teacher pretending to be a waitress and serving cardboard pictures of green beans and mashed potatoes. In another, a junior high school instructor might be pinning socks and trousers to a clothesline draped across the blackboard.

The exercises, strange as they may appear, are part of the Inglewood Unified School District's summer school program for foreign students who speak very little English. Unlike English as a second language classes in neighboring districts, the Inglewood summer program is designed to benefit both the teacher and the student by pairing instructors who have limited foreign language skills with students who are just learning how to speak English.

Guided by a team of bilingual instructors, the educators get a crash course in the "natural language" method of teaching English where students learn more through role modeling and parroting than textbook assignments.

Opportunity for Students

The program gives students the opportunity to continue speaking English in the classroom during summer vacation, a period when they might otherwise speak it very little

"Though the children may speak English among their friends, they are not receiving instruction and language guidance during the summer months, so they usually lose some of the English they have learned," said Susan Coggins, elementary bilingual coordinator for the school district.

While students typically dread going to summer school, students in the language program volunteered for the summer session. "I wanted to learn more English because in all the jobs they ask if you speak English and Spanish," said 11-year-old Norma Garcia.

District officials received 700 applications for 300 spots, which are divided into two sessions from 8:15 to 10:15 a.m. and from 10:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

"I don't mind getting up early for class because I don't do much at home when there is no school," Norma said.

More Foreign Students

The summer language program, which is loosely modeled after a similar program for immigrant students in the Los Angeles Unified School District, is part of Inglewood's efforts to accommodate a growing foreign-student population. In the past five years Inglewood's foreign student enrollment has jumped 35%, and district officials project a 3%- to 4%-increase each year through 1990.

"The district was sort of caught off guard by an explosion of foreign students," said Inglewood Supt. Rex Fortune. "District officials realized that if we are going to educate our children, then we have to take steps to accommodate both the teachers' and the students' needs."

Those steps include offering intensive language classes for students who speak little or no English when they enter Inglewood schools, and encouraging extra-curricular advisers to participate in bilingual training.

With a $75,000 federal grant, the district is able to offer the summer language program as an experiment, with the hope that it might become permanent, officials said.

Committed to Program

"We've committed ourselves to having this every summer," said Kermet Dixson, the district's director of special projects. "The beauty of this program is that it helps teachers as well as students."

School officials encourage teachers to share what they learned during their sum mer training with fellow instructors.

"I think more teachers are going to wish they had participated in this program when they see how a teacher can communicate with a class full of immigrant children, even though she doesn't speak their language," said first-grade teacher Dianna Osborne.

Although Spanish is the native language of most bilingual students in Inglewood, officials say the district has seen an influx of students from Pakistan, Iran, Ethiopia, Korea, Vietnam and the Samoan Islands.

With such a varied student population, district officials have started to lean toward the "natural language" teaching method because it depends more on visual aids than textbooks that might not include instructions in less common languages like Farsi, spoken by Iranian immigrants, or Amharic, spoken by students from Ethiopia.

Watching and Listening

"This method makes it easier for teachers to instruct students even though they might have limited proficiency in the child's native language," Coggins said. "The children learn English the same way they probably learned their native language--by watching and listening to people speak.

"The students are much more confident when they move into the mainstream academic programs under this teaching method. They are learning English much faster."

But in many cases, students lose proficiency in their native language as they learn English, which can cause problems at home where their parents or younger brothers and sisters speak little or no English, school officials said.

"My mother is a little afraid that I am losing some of my Spanish," said 11-year-old Luis Mendez. "I speak mostly Spanish at home, but I try to help (my parents) learn English by telling them what I learn in school. Like yesterday, I learned a new word and I went home to tell my mother what it meant."

Luis' parents, Carlos and Maria, concede that they have more trouble talking with their son since he started speaking English, but they expect their communication problems to decrease as they themselves learn more English.

'Learning From Him'

"We want him to be able to speak both languages so he has more job opportunities," Carlos Mendez said through an interpreter. "He wants to speak as much English as possible so he can practice. We are learning from him now."

School officials said Inglewood educators are just realizing how bilingual education can affect a student's home life since the program is relatively new.

"When a child begins to speak more English than their native language, it can cause conflict in their homes," said Hector Carrio, the district's secondary bilingual coordinator. "Sometimes the children don't want their parents to come to school because they don't speak English."

As part of the district's efforts to increase bilingual education, officials are encouraging more parents to enroll in English-as-a-second-language classes through Inglewood adult school programs. During the academic year, there is a waiting list for those classes.

"Children with bilingual parents catch on to English much faster, and they don't go through the . . . problems that children with non-English speaking parents do," Coggins said.

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