Bilingualism Prepares Us for Global Society

Maria S. Quezada is bilingual coordinator for the Saddleback Valley Unified School District.

Students with bilingual skills are a resource, both economically and socially. Preparing them to successfully compete in a diverse society and global economy for the work force in the year 2000 is a goal of the Saddleback Valley Unified School District (SVUSD). As California continues to become an increasingly diverse society, our district believes students will be shortchanged in our educational system if the schools are not prepared to offer a substantially different approach to second-language education beginning in elementary school. The SVUSD Bilingual Immersion program is funded by a federal grant through the Office of Bilingual Education and Language Minority Affairs. The immersion program's concept, which has been thoroughly researched for the past 20 years, is based on studies in language acquisition and bilingualism.

The basic premise of the program is that the knowledge and skills being acquired by students can be expressed in either of the two languages.

Our Spanish Bilingual Immersion program at De Portola Elementary provides students with the opportunity to acquire a second language as part of the regular school day. Since this is a two-way bilingual program, the benefits of the program are twofold: Spanish speakers maintain Spanish while acquiring English, and English speakers continue to develop their English skills as they acquire Spanish. Students in our program are valued for the language and experiences that they bring to their classroom.

We currently have approximately 85 students enrolled in three kindergarten and first-grade classrooms. Each year a new grade will be added, thus offering students the possibility of becoming bilingual and biliterate by the sixth grade.

Our program uses Spanish for instruction in subjects such as language arts, mathematics, science and history-social science. English-speaking students and limited-English-speaking students are grouped heterogeneously to provide the maximum opportunity for interaction. The time used for each language is 90% Spanish and 10% English in kindergarten through second grade, 80% Spanish and 20% English in third grade, 60% Spanish and 40% English in fourth grade and 50% English and Spanish by fifth and sixth grade. Additionally, instructional strategies and materials are of high quality and afford each child access to the core curriculum. The teacher is a key component. Each teacher has a high level of bilingual skills and has received training in bilingual immersion and whole-language education.

Parents of participating students appreciate the choice to educate and prepare their children for an increasingly diverse society. The parents of students in the Bilingual Immersion program are partners with the school. They work closely with school personnel to offer assistance to their children in their own language as students acquire a second language from their teachers and peers. Parent-education activities, such as Spanish language classes, are available to parents to actively involve them in the educational program. The success of the program is hinged on the commitment parents and students have for the bilingual immersion program, and many program activities strengthen and foster this commitment.

It is exciting to be able to share with the students who participate in our program the philosophical outlook my parents instilled in me: A person who knows two languages is worth two people because he or she is then prepared to interact with two cultural and language systems. This type of program has all of the features essential for a bilingual program to be successful: 1) support and commitment from the decision and policy makers; 2) a supportive school environment with high-quality staff; 3) bilingual, biliterate teachers; 4) quality instructional materials and strategies; 5) emphasis on the language skills students bring into the classroom; and 6) parent involvement and commitment. Bilingualism is an essential goal, and in our school district we look forward to having more children sharing in the beauty of knowing two or more languages. More important, they will be prepared to participate as members of a diverse and global society.

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