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NEWSMAKER

Seventh-grader's essay not only won a prize, it swayed votes in Sacramento for the bilingual education program.

April 02, 1987|CARMEN VALENCIA | Times Staff Writer

He has been touted as the first future Latino governor of California. Some say he could become the country's first Latino president. But 12-year-old Pedro Orozco says people are making much ado about nothing.

The way he sees it, all he did was write an essay on bilingual education for this year's contest sponsored by the California Assn. for Bilingual Education.

It just happened to win the $100 first place savings bond for his grade level. And people just happened to have liked it so much that Pedro got a standing ovation when he read his essay at a January conference of the association.

But ever since he did that, he has just about become a regular spokesman on behalf of bilingual education. An aide to Assembly Speaker Willie Brown Jr. (D-San Francisco) saw him give that speech and invited Pedro to speak March 3 before the Assembly Education Committee, which was considering extending the state's bilingual education program until 1992. After Pedro's moving testimony, the bill was approved 10-3. The lad is credited with swaying the votes of Republican Assemblymen Richard Longshore of Westminster and Charles Quackenbush of San Jose.

Invitations have followed--from the Los Angeles County Office of Education, the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District, the Norwalk chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens and the state Department of Education. Rep. Esteban Torres (D-Pico Rivera) will have the essay entered into the Congressional Record.

This is pretty heady stuff for a boy whose parents emigrated from Mexico and who lives in the "One-Ways" of Norwalk, a barrio section of the city.

"I thought once I read my speech for (the bilingual association), it was going to be all over. I didn't even know I was going to win," said Pedro, who is in the seventh grade at Nettie Waite Elementary School in Norwalk and is enrolled in a program for gifted students. He said he now realizes that what he did is not only important for him, but for future students who will need bilingual education to make it through school.

"It makes me feel good to have an opportunity to help other kids with my essay and the bill and everything," said Pedro, who has freckles and a winning smile.

Principal Angela Henderson said Pedro is an exceptional example of the benefits of bilingual education. "He is representing the way the process is supposed to work," Henderson said. "He is saying exactly what we're trying to say as educators. We know bilingual education works."

As Pedro put it in his essay:

"Many of my friends are not bilingual, they can only speak in Spanish. Because I also speak Spanish, we can talk with one another. If I only spoke English, it would only be possible for me to have English speaking friends."

Pedro began school in 1980 knowing how to say only two words in English: hello and goodby.

He grew up speaking Spanish and still speaks Spanish at his home, since his parents do not know English. His mother, originally from Durango, and his father, who lived in Zacatecas, never went beyond the fourth grade in school.

Once they settled in Norwalk in 1978, near an area known for high crime and gang activity, the parents quietly urged their children to excel in school.

"We try telling them it's worth it trying to do well in school," said Fidelia Orozco, Pedro's mother. There are four other children in the family: Johnny, 14; Virginia, 8; Genaro, 4; and Fidelia Angelica, 8 months. "I try telling them that now that they have an opportunity, study as much as possible," the mother said.

Once he entered kindergarten, Pedro took part in the bilingual education program at Edmondson School until he was in the third grade. He was then transferred into all-English instruction classrooms. He was eventually enrolled in the district's gifted program and won a districtwide "Student of the Year" award last year.

Pedro, who said he averages two hours of homework a day, enjoys reading in his spare time and especially likes adventure novels.

"He has been a star all the way through. Every teacher who has had him knows he's special" Henderson said. She noted that Pedro has been able to excel despite living in an area known for gang and drug activity. "He's an exception in the midst of his environment."

"I could not have learned as much as I have if I had not been in a bilingual program. My friends would not be many had I not been bilingual. I frankly believe that overall bilingual education is responsible for a big portion of my education," his essay concludes.

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