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Ventura County News Roundup

OXNARD : College Bilingual Program Gets Grant

April 14, 1993|JANE HULSE

An Oxnard College program for non-English speaking students got a $10,000 boost from the California Strawberry Festival on Tuesday--and praise from comic actor Cheech Marin.

"Language is both a barrier and an opportunity if you become proficient in two languages," Marin, a Latino, told a room full of students on hand for the check presentation to the college.

The money will benefit the college's ESPIGA program, an acronym that stands for English Spanish Program of Instruction Granting Access. Since 1977, the program has assisted primarily Spanish-speaking students by teaching them English, as well as easing them into the standard curriculum.

ESPIGA students Teresa Robinson and Gustavo Ruelas described the difficulty of arriving in the United States from Mexico without job prospects or English proficiency.

"I was lost," said Robinson, who finally enrolled in ESPIGA in 1991. "It was like one beautiful door had opened." Robinson, who was a teacher in Mexico, will graduate from Oxnard College in May. She plans to transfer to Cal State Northridge to complete her degree in teaching.

Students in the program work their way through four levels of English. Meanwhile, they take other courses such as math, typing, auto technology or electronics--many of which are taught in a bilingual mode or with bilingual assistance.

This year, 600 to 700 students out of the college's 6,000 population participated in ESPIGA. About 40% of the student body is Latino.

"We get a lot of fieldworkers," said Mati Villalpando, the college's director of instructional support services. "We're seeing people who have very little education in their own language."

The program allows students to move into the regular curriculum as their English improves. "It's scary for students with limited skills to take a class where the teacher doesn't speak their language," Villalpando said.

This year's donation will be used to buy computer software for the language lab.

At the presentation Tuesday, students stood in line to get autographs from the Los Angeles-born Marin, who said he grew up speaking English. He has brushed up on his Spanish skills by taking lessons and listening to tapes in the last six years, he said.

Although he lives in Malibu, he said he feels at home in Oxnard, where he based his upcoming movie, "Angel of Oxnard," a comedy about a man working at a television station who experiences miracles.

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