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Teachers From Afar : Spaniards Bolster Bilingual Education in 3 Districts

June 26, 1988|LEE HARRIS | Times Staff Writer

Last Thanksgiving, the cutouts and pictures of "turkeys" in teacher Concepcion Gavino's classroom did not look much like the traditional American holiday fowl.

"They were peacocks. We got a big laugh out of it," said Howard Bryan, principal of Keppel Elementary School in Paramount, where Gavino teaches.

The peacock displays seemed appropriate to Gavino, who is from Madrid. Peacock, in Spanish, is pavo real, which also means "royal turkey," Bryan said.

Gavino is one of a group of Spaniards teaching Spanish-speaking students in California under a cooperative program between the State Department of Education and Spain.

Teaching in Spanish

Gavino and the others in the program use their native language in class. Proponents of bilingual education believe students learn better in their native language before studying subjects in English.

She is a welcome addition to the Paramount district, where more than half of the 12,000 students are Latino. The district has 108 bilingual teachers, but will need at least five more next year, Bryan said. Besides teaching the basics such as math and reading, she teaches flamenco dancing and voice. She has developed a great rapport with her students, Bryan said.

Paramount, Lynwood and Compton are among the school districts participating in the program. Whittier City School District is scheduled to participate next year.

But the program has generated controversy, largely because most of the participants have failed the state's competency examination for teachers.

The teachers from Spain were given one-year emergency credentials, which allowed them to teach during the 1987-88 school year. Most have passed portions of the test.

"Like most of the teachers, I have had problems with the writing. You must write in English. It has been difficult," said Gavino, 33, who teaches second and third graders.

Extensions Granted

The State Board of Education recently granted a one-year extension to 11 Spanish teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District despite objections from the United Teachers of Los Angeles. The board granted extensions to 14 Los Angeles teachers who are in this country from Mexico as part of a similar teacher placement program.

"The board felt it is valuable to have these teachers and that they should be employed for another year," said Greg Geeting, executive director.

Frances Haywood, vice president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, spoke against the waiver or extension during the board hearing June 10 in Sacramento.

"We're not against the program," Haywood said in an interview. "But it is unfair and inequitable to give waivers to these teachers when the same is not done with our own teachers," The UTLA represents 32,000 Los Angeles district teachers. Haywood said UTLA may ask the Legislature to intervene.

The board also decided that 31 additional teachers from Spain and 22 from Mexico can teach in the Los Angeles district next year before passing the test.

California residents must pass

the California Basic Education Skills Test before they can teach. Qualified out-of-state teachers can teach before passing the test.

The Los Angeles district, which has the nation's largest number of students who speak limited English, views programs with Spain and Mexico as additional sources for much-needed bilingual teachers, said Ramiro Garcia, assistant superintendent of the district's office of bilingual education.

Districts such as Paramount, Compton, Lynwood must make their own appeals to the state board to retain teachers who have not passed the competency test. Administrators in the three districts say they will seek extensions. The program has also been a source of controversy in the Garvey School District, which serves Rosemead, Monterey Park and San Gabriel. The district's superintendent, Andrew J. Viscovich, resigned in March after the school board decided to discontinue hiring teachers from Spain. The controversy reportedly contributed to his resignation.

Gavino is expected to take the writing portion of the test again this summer. If she does not pass, the Paramount district will ask the state board for a waiver, said Douglas Martin, director of personnel.

Gavino is the only Spaniard in the Paramount district but the district is scheduled to receive three more teachers during 1988-89.

Meanwhile, Gavino and her colleagues from Spain are learning to cope with freeways, supermarkets and American students.

"I kept getting lost in the supermarkets," said Alicia Blanco, 25, who teaches fourth-graders at Lincoln Elementary School in Lynwood.

Year of Experience

Blanco, who has a year of experience as a secondary teacher in Spain, has a bachelor's degree from the University of Barcelona.

Carmen Perez, 37, who teaches kindergarten and first grade at Lincoln, said American students respond to "rewards, small prizes, like placing happy faces on their work."

Perez, who taught elementary school five years in Spain, has a master's degree in education and science.

The program was established to create better cultural and educational ties between Spain and California, said Jose Anton, who oversees the program for the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science. Teachers from Spain were expected to stay here two or three years.

And 44 California teachers are going to study in Spain this summer as part of the program.

A total of 72 teachers participated in the program the first year, but both the Spanish government and the state of California were less than pleased, Anton said. He said most of the first-year participants were not as qualified, and have returned home.

Last year, representatives from the various school districts traveled to Spain and interviewed prospective teachers, Anton said.

They selected 48 teachers for the 1987-88 school year. Another 61 have been chosen for the next school year, Anton said. All have teaching experience, and many have master's degrees, he said.

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