Dedicated teachers help students learn English
Three sixth-graders in Leo Herrera's classroom at Monte Vista Elementary are proudly doing some "show and tell" for their first-grade teachers.
The students knew no English when they began first grade. Now they are fluent in the language.
"When Mrs. Ward asked me how they were doing, I thought it would be nice to show her instead of just tell her," Herrera said. "The whole idea is to show the progression of their writing. They get better as they develop their skills."
Herrera arranged for the three children to visit their first-grade teacher, Diana Ward, to demonstrate their reading skills and show her how much they have learned.
Five years ago, the same students stared at Ward and then went home and cried.
They knew no English.
"We were told that if we spoke in Spanish to them, we'd get fired," Ward said.
The children had been taught in Spanish their kindergarten year. The next year they began class with a foreign language - English.
"All of a sudden, everything was in English," said Isamar Rodriguez, now a sixth grader. "I was so confused. When the teacher stood in front of the classroom, I didn't understand a word."
Arturo Gonzalez and Maria Rodriguez acknowledged experiencing similar feelings.
"It was really hard. I didn't know anything," Rodriguez said. "I felt kind of lost."
When Proposition 227 passed in the State of California in 1998, teachers were no longer allowed to teach in Spanish in the classrooms.
Since most schools in Porterville were on a year-round schedule, the impact of immediate implementation of the new law was not severe.
Except for Monte Vista - the only school on a traditional schedule.
"The law passed that summer," said Ward, now teaching third grade. "These kids came to kindergarten for half a day. They were taught in Spanish. Then they came to first grade. The law states we can't speak to these children in Spanish. Yet they gave us no curriculum to use."
Ward and Nancy Brown, another first grade teacher, each had 20 non-English speaking students in their classrooms.
Together they created their own curriculum.
"We became great actors," Ward said. "The kids cried a lot. It was heart-breaking. I had 100 percent Spanish kids, none spoke English. And I could not speak to them at all in Spanish."
Ward was given no instructional aide to assist in the classroom. She questioned if she was doing the right thing.
"Many times I'd call Mrs. Brown at 3 a.m. and we'd plan for the next day," Ward said. "It became very lonesome. We only had each other to rely on."
Ward concentrated on mathematics for the first four months.
"A No. 4 is recognized the same in English and Spanish," she said. "We did no reading for five months."
When she did start reading, she began with nursery rhymes and songs.
She noticed a difference after Christmas. They all returned with smiles.
They understood the Pledge of Allegiance and they could read simple words. They became good spellers.
"At this time of the year, we were barely starting to read," Ward said. "All of the others were six months ahead of us."
Yet when it came time for district testing in April, the children in her classroom scored at the same level as any other student in the district. Two of her students scored higher than most of the other students in the district in mathematics.
Several other students are now in the GATE program, a program for gifted and talented students.
"The key has been a community effort," Ward said. "The parents knew what was going on. They were so supportive. The teachers and the principal were very supportive."
Ward continues to track the success of three students.
"One of the reasons they are doing so good is they have great teachers at Monte Vista," Ward said. "Here we say our good-byes and send them off. They get the extra support before going off to the real world, which to them is junior high."
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, ext. 1046