August 20, 2014

Changes to bilingual program in one Champaign school forces some parents to make difficult decision

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Giovanna Olea  in the community center in Shadowwood community on Thursday, April 17, 2014. photo by Darrell Hoemann/The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Darrell Hoemann/CU-CitizenAccess.org

Giovanna Olea in the community center in Shadowwood community on Thursday, April 17, 2014. photo by Darrell Hoemann/The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

By Giovanna Olea/For CU-CitizenAccess.org – Giovanna Olea works for CU-CitizenAccess.org as a community ambassador in a computer lab at Shadow Wood Mobile Home Park. CU-CitizenAccess.org has opened and operated a computer lab within the park for the community since 2011. Olea writes about her experiences here.

Many families stay in Champaign-Urbana because their children have problems with school. I heard from several mothers in Shadow Wood that the school their children attended last year will not have bilingual teachers again this year, so the parents were asked to find a different school for their sons. The parents can keep the kids at their original school, but they will no longer receive help in their native language. Of course, the mothers are worried. The children are 5 and 6 years old. The only language they know is Spanish, the language they learned from their parents. And though their fresh minds help them learn English quickly,  it is hard to change from one day to another.

Parents are also worried that the transition to another school will be hard for their children. Although they have only attended their current school for one or two years, children get used to their peers, teachers, and even the school. Moving to a different environment is hard, and it is even harder to make new friends. Some children this age can be picky when they select who to hang out with.

Learning English is necessary, and schools have the right to make changes so the children can reach their potential. However, changes to a bi-lingual program can be damaging.  For example, bilingual children could help minimize the barriers between English and Spanish speaking people. The children could help people understand what others are trying to say. This could come in handy  when people are sick and trying to explain to their doctor how they feel.

Unfortunately, when an accident like a car crash occurs, many people try to take advantage of those who don’t know how to explain what really happened to the police. Those people who can’t speak the language often take all the blame. We should let children continue to learn their original languages and more about their customs, as well as teach them the language that is required in this country. In this way, the children will appreciate what we do for them today and will help our country be better tomorrow.

I’m sad that this school will no longer be offering tools that could give children the opportunity to make a difference. Fortunately, there are more schools that offer English as a second language classes for children to improve their cognitive development.

Hopefully the mothers I’ve spoken to will find the school that is best for their sons and daughters. The process of  moving to a new environment may be hard for these children, but it might be even harder to stay at a place where no one can understand a word they are saying.

In 2012, CU-CitizenAccess.org worked with faculty from the Graduate School of Library and Information Science to secure a grant from the state that offers skills training to help participants secure jobs. The money was used to place community ambassadors in public computer labs to offer computer literacy training and workshops to underserved populations from the Urbana Free LibrarySalt and Light Food Pantry and Shadow Wood Mobile Home Park as well as a public computer lab in East St. Louis. At the end of the grant, CU-CitizenAccess.org retained Olea to continue her work. 

Editor’s note:

The parents were specifically referring to changes in the bilingual education program at Robeson Elementary.

Maria Alanis, director of ESL and bilingual education for the Champaign School District, confirmed that the two teachers from the Robeson Elementary Transitional Bilingual Education program were relocated to the International Prep Academy on 1065 W. Kirby Avenue. Alanis said no bilingual teachers had been cut and two bilingual teachers were added in the district.

Transitional Bilingual Education programs are required at schools where there are 20 or more Limited English Proficient students who speak the same language. At International Prep Academy, the former Robeson Elementary teachers will work in a Dual Language program, where about half of the classroom consists of native Spanish-speakers and half of native English-speakers. The goal of this program is to foster bilingual abilities through speaking, writing, reading and cultural understanding.

– Claire Everett