Hayward’s ‘Great Debate’ Brings Bilingual Education to Forefront

Chabot College students held the first ever Hayward “Great Debate” last Friday in City Hall and the Hayward Public Library, discussing the merits of K-12 education reform.

“The purpose is to show students that their work matters,” said Chabot College Instructor Christine Warda. “These debates show how we have civic engagements in public with contentious issues.”

Chabot College students discussed The Advancement Via Individual Determination program, known popularly as AVID, which is a college readiness system offered to elementary school through high school students.

AVID targets mainly underserved Latino and African American students. It is an opt-in elective course.  Three out of four AVID graduates were accepted to four-year colleges or universities, according to the program’s website.

“Whether we want to admit it or not, people do judge you by how you speak, how you read and write,” said Lisa Nolting, principal of Stonebrae Elementary School.

“So if they have a better understanding of language and they’re able to function on a higher level both in English and the second language they’re learning, they’re going to do better.”

Stonebrae students are enrolled in the Mandarin Dual Language Immersion Program. They spend half the day learning in English and the other half in Mandarin. Students are also exposed to the history and culture of the language they are learning.  Acclimating them to both languages shows how communication works and will help them in future business, said Nolting.

Students learning English as a second language can often face greater hardships than other students such as poverty, large student-to-teacher ratios and wide academic disparities, according to a report from the Huffington Post.

In California secondary schools, 59 percent of English learners had spent more than six years without reaching English proficiency, according to a study by Californians Together.

“Spanish speakers in the past graduated high school and were sent to college where they were deficient in English,” said Chabot College Student Jenna Hewitt.

After the final debate, Hayward city council members mostly critiqued the form of the two student debaters.

Councilmember Francisco Zermeno said he supported bilingual education, saying it helps in maintaining culture and creates strong family ties.  Bilingualism cures racism by learning about different cultures, he said.

He advocated the creation of a program to help eliminate bad influences such as graffiti, youth crimes and gangs.

In 1998, the passage of California Proposition 227 changed the way limited English proficient students were taught.  It required all public school instruction be conducted in English, and reduced bilingual programs from 3-7 years to a 180-day model, according to Councilmember Mark Salinas.

“There are still a lot of language haters out there,” said Salinas. “We’re still struggling to maintain language rights, with people biting at the chance for an English-only policy.”

He claimed bilingual students score higher in the GRE, LSAT, and MCAT academic proficiency tests.

Opponents of bilingual education cite the expense of teaching and maintaining multiple languages in a school, as well as segregating the student population by language proficiency.

There is also an appeal of maintaining American English as the de facto standard language, although the country does not have an officially recognized national language.

Students should make an informed decision and look at the research that has been done concerning bilingual education, said Warda.

“It’s a cliché, but knowledge is power,” said Jason Ames, director of forensics languages instructor at Chabot College. “A lot [of individuals who are] against [learning multiple languages] probably don’t understand that it in no way threatens English.  Cultural communication is one of the ways to fight ignorance about bilingual education.”

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