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Schools Look to Future and See a Tower of Babble : Language: Recent immigrants have boosted Armenian above Spanish as the most common non-English native tongue.


Armenian has replaced Spanish this year as the predominant foreign language in Glendale schools and the percentage of students who speak a primary language other than English rose to 63%, school district officials reported this week.

An annual language census presented to Board of Education members Tuesday showed that the number of Armenian students--most of whom are recent immigrants and speak only limited English-- has more than doubled since 1988, from 2,309 to 4,859.

That has boosted Armenian above Spanish, Korean and Filipino/Tagalog as the most common non-English language in the schools, the census indicated.

"We saw it coming," said Sally Buckley, principal of Lincoln Elementary School and education specialist for the district who wrote the census report. "There's been a big jump in the last four years. Although I don't think two years ago we knew we were going to see the number of immigrants from Armenia that we're getting."

The yearly census, required by the state Department of Education, records the number of students with a primary language other than English who have limited English-speaking skills and the number with a primary language other than English but who are fluent in English.

The census showed that 58 different languages are represented among the district's 24,400 students. The greatest diversity exists in southern Glendale schools, where most immigrant children enroll, according to the survey.

At Mann Elementary School, on East Acacia Avenue, nearly 91% of the school's 1,250 students have a primary language other than English, and most of those have only limited English skills, the census showed.

Eight other elementary schools top the district's 63% average of students who speak something other than English as their primary language: 86% at Cerritos and Edison, 85% at Marshall, 80% at Columbus and Muir, 78% at Jefferson, 73% at Franklin, 65% at Balboa. Five years ago, the district's average was 49%, according to the language survey.

"What it represents for us is an ongoing effort to secure excellent teachers who can speak other languages, like Armenian and Spanish and Korean," said Mann Principal Wayne Sparks. "We English-speakers can stagger on, but it's obviously an advantage for a teacher to make something understandable in another language."

Northern Glendale schools also have seen a change, Buckley said. For instance, in the La Crescenta area, which includes Crescenta Valley High School, the number of students whose English-speaking skills are limited climbed from 9% in March, 1989, to 19% in October, she said.

"At a school that may have been affected only by Spanish before, they may be seeing multi-ethnic students now," she said. "But the strategies are no different."

The findings in the census are not surprising, and continue a steady increase over the last several years, she said. This year's 63% is a 4% increase from last year, which in turn was a 4.5% increase from 1988.

But district officials acknowledged the census has broad implications. The increasing number of students with limited English demands more bilingual teachers and aides, who are much in demand throughout the state, said Vic Pallos, a district spokesman.

In addition, a newly enrolled student with little or no English ability needs about three years of special English tutoring and services before he or she can be fully integrated into a school's English-speaking environment, Buckley said.

The goal of tutoring is to get students to "speak fluent English and compete with students who know only English," she said. "Generally speaking, we don't even expect children to be successfully academic for at least three years."

The Welcome Center, operated by the district's intercultural education office, has offered special language services since it opened almost two years ago, she said. According to the census, it has had some success: 1,014 students were reclassified as fluent in English this school year; 650 were reclassified in 1988-89.

"It's challenging, but I think we're doing pretty well," Buckley said. "Glendale's been a conservative community, and I think we just need to keep aware of the changes."

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