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Students Assail Korean-English Study Program

Education: Half the participants in bilingual curriculum in Fullerton tell principal they want to drop out, although only one has quit so far.


FULLERTON — Three years after Sunny Hills High School launched the only federally funded Korean-English bilingual program in the country, half the students have signed a petition saying they want out.

In the document expressing their dissatisfaction, written late last month, 44 of the 87 students in Project Delta told the director of the program, "We now realize that we have been . . . in a program that has failed to provide 'bilingual and bicultural immersion.' "

Therefore, the students wrote, "we declare that we no longer want to be involved in Project Delta and will not recommend this to anyone."

Since the the petition was delivered, school officials have been scrambling to mollify the angry students, and only one has actually left the program.

But the unusual student condemnations came as the officials are preparing to seek funding to continue Project Delta, which was launched in 1994 at one of Orange County's best public high schools. At Sunny Hills, 51% of the students are Asian Americans, and nearly a third of that group are Korean Americans. The students enrolled in the program are from all grade levels, and most are Korean Americans, but it is open to all students.

The mission of the project, according to its literature, "is to provide an environment where students are able to become multicultural, as well as bilingual and biliterate in Korean and English." It differs from other bilingual programs because the students are mostly fluent in English, and they want to learn another language--Korean--and its culture.

Project Delta's original purpose was to teach students English and Korean, in addition to teaching math and social science in both languages. But math was dropped in the first year because the Korean American teacher had problems teaching the class in two languages.

In their letter to Deanna Hill, the program's director, the students said that they were unhappy with that change, and that they were not getting enough Korean instruction in the other classes.

One 16-year-old who has been in the program for three years said this week that he is considering dropping out next year. "There's really no point in staying in it [because] it has barely done anything to help my Korean get better," said the student. "I don't feel [school officials] have done much to help me. They haven't hired new teachers in the program or have new equipment that would help me."

He and other students said they were misled into believing that Project Delta would make it easier for them to get accepted into prestigious universities.

Both Hill and the high school's principal, Loring Davies, have met individually with the 44 students to discuss the concerns. The two officials said they believe the student furor has eased as a result, noting that only one student has left the program in the month since the petition was drafted.

The officials attributed the students' anger in part to a misperception of Project Delta, but conceded that the school had failed to meet the program's original intention of bilingual and bicultural immersion.

"Some of the students were under the impression that by virtue of being in the program, they would be given preferential treatment in terms of college enrollment, and we have explained to them that that's not possible," Davies said. He conceded, however, that counselors and teachers, without meaning to, may have given the students that impression in their endorsement of the program.

Davies and Hill acknowledged that Project Delta is no longer the bilingual and bicultural immersion program it set out to be because of the complexity and impracticality of teaching the subjects in two languages with some teachers who were not accredited to give class instruction in English and Korean.

But Davies said the school is "able to meet the spirit and philosophy of the grant," which gave Sunny Hills $225,000 to launch the project, because Delta students still take an hour of Korean every day and Korean culture, literature and history are incorporated into other classes. The funding ends this school year, and Hill has applied for additional money.

Magaly Lavadenz, director of state and legislative affairs for the California Assn. for Bilingual Education, said school officials may have a problem getting the money because Project Delta is no longer a bilingual program in the true sense of the word.

"Most of the the courses are mainly taught in English, and yes, there's a language class, but that alone is not enough," she said.

Virginia Han, president of the Korean Parent Support Group at the high school, said some members originally wanted to petition to get their children out of the program while keeping them in the Korean classes. But they want to give school officials and the students a chance to work out the problems, she said.

"Not all students are going to like a program they signed up for, but when you talk about 44 students . . . there is something wrong here," said Han, 48.

The fact that the students raised objections to Project Delta is a departure from the usual debates on bilingual education, in which the participants are educators, parents and policy makers.

"Students are not frequently asked for their opinions and their voices are not heard," Lavadenz said. "I find this interesting because it demonstrates the students' understanding of how things should be and what the students feel they really need in terms of an instructional program."

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