Teacher Kathy Allard pointed to the 5-year-old boy's shoulders. "Identify," she said, in English.
The boy tapped his shoulders with his hands and said, "Shoes!"
The child, whose parents are from Iran, was learning English by "immersion," looking at pictures and watching his teachers, who spoke nothing but English in class. It was the boy's only mistake that day.
The class at College Park School in Irvine has 26 children, ranging from kindergarten to third-grade age levels. They are from Germany, Japan, mainland China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Colombia and Mexico.
Allard says her students, speaking English, move on to regular classes in a year or less.
A few rooms away, another class of 32 children, almost all from Mexico, was being conducted mostly in Spanish.
Debate About Method
This way of teaching English also works, said teacher Sandy Ruiz Carpenter. "We get our students to speak English and then move them out in two or three years," she said.
As Southern California becomes the Ellis Island of the 1980s, debate rages about the best way to teach English to the children of the new immigrants. On one side are proponents of bilingual education: the teaching of students in their native language until they learn English sufficiently to study in regular classes.
The major alternative to bilingual education is called ESL, English as a Second Language. ESL involves teaching predominantly in English, and in some cases, exclusively in English.
College Park School in Irvine has both and provides a look in miniature at the two sides.
In the bilingual class, a teacher's aide was showing a picture to kindergarten students. "What things in this picture start with the letter 'O?' " she asked in Spanish.
A little boy pointed to a drawing of an eye. "\o7 Ojo\f7 ," he said. The teacher's aide agreed that it was a correct choice. Eye equals \o7 ojo\f7 equals letter O.
The child was being taught to be literate in his native language, Spanish. In this lesson, Spanish letters only were being taught.
But a few feet away, a teacher's aide was helping a little boy be bilingual with numbers. "What is that?" she said, pointing to the numeral 4. "\o7 Quatro\f7 ," replied the child.
"Now, in English," said the teacher.
"Four," said the little boy, with a big smile."
A mother who was visiting the bilingual classroom was Margarita Montero, of Irvine. She said she speaks English only \o7 pocito\f7 --a little bit. She also said that she wants her children to attend bilingual classes rather than English-only ESL classes at College Park School. "I don't want my children to lose their Spanish," she said.
'Here to Learn English'
By contrast, in the English-only class down the hall, a teacher's aide, Kojoan Kao, said that learning of English quickly is the goal she has for her own children. Kao, a native of Taiwan, said she is not worried that her children will lose their culture in the process.
"They are here to learn English," she said. "They can keep their culture at home, still."
Yolanda Battle, a native of El Salvador, is another teacher's aide in the English-only class. Although some of her students are from Spanish-speaking countries, Battle said she speaks Spanish to them only in emergencies. Battle said she thinks it wise to have more than one type of English language program.
"I look on this type of (English-only) class as an alternative," she said. "You can choose. Children who take bilingual education usually don't know their own (native) language well. They learn their own language, then they can learn another language."
Battle said that children enrolled in the English-only class are generally those who come from homes where the parents are well-educated, and the native language is very well honed. Bilingual education, she said, is the wise choice for children not so well versed in their native language.
Choices Called Necessary
State Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig also believes choices in English language classes are necessary. He said in an interview last week that he supports bilingual education but thinks it wise to have alternatives, such as the English immersion program offered at College Park School.
Moreover, said Honig, he believes state law requires such alternatives. "We (in the state Department of Education) are sending out letters to school districts telling them that they have to have options for parents," said Honig. "The law gives parents the choice of whether they want to put their children in bilingual classes. If they don't want to, the school district should have alternatives."
Honig added, "That's why (U.S. Education Secretary William) Bennett's idea makes sense. There should be a variety of ways for teaching (English to non-English speakers)." Honig referred to Bennett's urging in September that Congress allow more flexibility on how federal funds for bilingual education can be spent.