Education Matters, Sandra Nichols, Pajaro Valley Unified School District, PVUSD, Bilingual Education, Charter Schools, Santa Cruz County Office of Education, English Learner Master Plan, Seal of Biliteracy

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May 29, 2011

No bilingual classes in Pajaro Valley?

Sandra Nichols
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  "As a PVUSD trustee for the past ten years, I can assure you that not only are a variety of bilingual programs available within PVUSD, but the district celebrates and encourages bilingualism and biliteracy."

T The Sentinel reported (5/20/2011) an appeal to the County Board of Education for a proposed bilingual charter school that the Pajaro Valley Unified School District board had rejected and quoted the presenter saying, "about 81 percent of South County is Latino, yet there are no bilingual classes."

As a PVUSD trustee for the past 10 years, I can assure you that not only are a variety of bilingual programs available within PVUSD, but the district celebrates and encourages bilingualism and biliteracy.

I was present at the meeting and was surprised to hear the presenter claim that bilingual classes were a need the charter school would fill. I addressed the board in defense of PVUSD's bilingual programs, and feel the need to set the record straight for Sentinel readers.

Indeed, bilingual classes are alive and thriving in PVUSD. That is not to say that everything is perfect, certainly not while we are experiencing the most severe budget crisis since I became an educator. Considering the inadequate funding of our schools, PVUSD is making a champion effort to prepare all students for productive lives.

In 2008, a task force on which I served developed PVUSD's English Learner Master Plan, a comprehensive, systematic approach beginning with parent notification of options. It defines a variety of bilingual services that students can access within the district.

While not all options are available at all schools, the master plan spells out programs to assist English Learners starting on their first day of school. The plan requires daily ELD (English Language Development) until the student attains complete fluency — not just speaking, but reading, writing, and comprehending academic subject matter in English. Several of the models support the mastering of skills in two languages. Alternatives include dual-language immersion and early- and late-exit bilingual models.

Specific classes are set up at schools when sufficient numbers of parents request a bilingual model. When not available at a student's neighborhood school, parents are given the option of accessing the desired model at another school.

At the urging of myself and others, PVUSD has taken a major step in promoting and celebrating bilingualism. We are one of only 33 school districts in California that have an approved program to award graduates the "Seal of Biliteracy," which is affixed to their diplomas when they meet the demanding criteria. That seal indicates that anyone looking for bilingual employees would do well to employ these award winners. In this, our first year offering the seal, 30 graduates have earned it, while 17 others received a certificate of recognition.

I still hear people say "bilingual classes are illegal," and that Proposition 227 eliminated bilingual education in California. This just isn't true. However, if parents do not request bilingual classes, students are automatically placed in mainstream English classes with support in the effort to learn English and succeed in school.

PVUSD has established itself as a leader in providing the options necessary to adequately address the needs of English learners. Though we continually strive to improve, bilingual education is producing strong results in South County.

Sandra Nichols is a retired 31-year public school teacher and current Pajaro Valley Unified School District Trustee in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties.

© Sandra Nichols 2001 - 2011


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