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Language Course Sign-Ups Lagging

Education: Orange County's Vietnamese community lobbied for classes, but students aren't clamoring to get in. Campaign hopes to raise the enrollment.


Student interest in Vietnamese language programs at two Garden Grove high schools has been below expectations, forcing school officials to scramble to save classes added to the curriculum after years of lobbying from Vietnamese parents and community leaders.

The language classes at Bolsa Grande and La Quinta high schools are two-thirds full, prompting school officials and civic leaders to hit Little Saigon radio stations, local newspapers and community bulletin boards to drum up interest in the foreign-language electives.

"I think we need to publicize the course again," said Bolsa Grande Principal Denise Jay.

Second-generation Vietnamese who want to learn the native language of their parents have created a surge in Vietnamese language classes in high schools.

But Bolsa Grande's beginner Vietnamese course has just 18 of the 30 students required for a full class. La Quinta's 30-student class is full.

Still, the two high schools must enroll at least 60 total students in the pilot classes or the program could be canceled, school officials said.

Parents, students, teachers, school officials and politicians who have fiercely backed the programs said the courses are a necessity for the Garden Grove Unified School District, which serves the largest Vietnamese American student population in the nation--28% of the student body, or about 11,000 students.

They are hoping for a higher turnout when underclass students register in August.

But critics say the program is poorly organized, leaving no assurances for success and too much to chance as pilot classes, even for interested parents and students.

"My concern is that the pilot classes might not be successful, because at this point I don't know what the district has done to ensure the program's continued success," said KimOanh Nguyen-Lam of Garden Grove, whose eighth-grade son, Elliot, will attend high school a year from now. "The class might be dropped by the time my son gets to La Quinta in ninth grade."

Nguyen-Lam said she's hesitant about signing her son up for the pilot classes because the schools don't evaluate the students' proficiency level, and the volunteer teachers aren't given supplemental training to teach language classes.

Despite those concerns, community support for the classes remains strong.

Much like French, German or Spanish electives, the Vietnamese course is open to all students and fulfills high school and college language requirements.

"I have every belief that the pilot classes will be a successful endeavor and more schools will want it," said Garden Grove board member Lynn Hamtil.

The more languages schools offer, the brighter the future Huong Le sees for her children.

"It's good, because my children can learn more languages and they can have better opportunities," said Le of Garden Grove.

"But nothing can compare or be more satisfying and precious to me than to have my children sit down with me and have a conversation entirely in Vietnamese. I wish for that."

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