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Spanish classes for native Spanish speakers grow in popularity

By Heather Hollingsworth (AP)

(AP): Rosa Pérez chats easily in Spanish, but the 15-year-old—having arrived in the United States more than a decade ago—never learned to write in her native tongue.

That’s a skill she and a growing number of Latino students in public schools and colleges are working on in classes often called Spanish for Native Speakers, which aim to make students bi-literate as well as bilingual. 

For Pérez, who attends Emporia High School in Kansas , the early results have led to writing letters to her aunts and cousins in México. Her parents, both workers at a Tyson Foods Inc. meat packing plant, were thinking ahead to a potential career for their daughter when they encouraged her to take the class.

“They said, since other people get good money translating, maybe I could do that,” said Pérez, who wants to become an elementary school teacher and work with Spanish-speaking youngsters.

Hospitals, schools, police departments and many corporations are clamoring for bilingual workers, and language experts believe classes like the one Pérez takes could help fill the need. By 2050, studies suggest, Latinos will constitute 25 percent of the nation’s work force.

The classes have been offered since the 1980s by many schools in the southern border states such as Texas and California . They have grown increasingly popular, however, as more and more immigrants moved north, to the Midwest and even the Northeast.

Ohio student Soto

Carla Soto-Cruz, 18, who writes for La Prensa newspaper, which is widely distributed in hardcopy throughout the Midwest and internationally on line at laprensatoledo.com, agrees that one must maintain bilingualism.

“I moved to the United States from Tlaquepaque , Jalisco, México some five years ago, not knowing any English. I have since mastered English but I soon realized that maintaining my Spanish ties and language is a top priority.

Carla Itzi Abuelitos Mexico

“I am a freshman at Owens Community College and have enrolled in Spanish classes in addition to English.”

Soto also co-hosts La Prensa Radio Show that airs every Sunday on WCWA 1230AM, commencing at 8:00PM . She speaks in both English and Spanish, in this multicultural market that surrounds the Toledo , Ohio metro area. 

María E. Ruvalcaba, who owns Nuevo Bilingual Service Center in Monroe , Michigan , has seen an increase in her student enrollment, both among Latino and non-Latino students, because of this need and direction. Ruvalcaba hails from Nuevo Laredo , México and teaches both English and Spanish.

Ruvalcaba did not know any English when she moved to the U.S. in 1996, but mastered inglés after hours of study over several years.

When working for Monroe Public Schools as a teacher’s aide she decided to open the language school. She encourages everyone to learn a second language.

“I still maintain my Spanish-speaking abilities,” said Ruvalcaba.


Bloomfield Hills student starts Spanish-tutoring program

With a twist, a Bloomfield Hills MI high school student frustrated by the slow pace of her Spanish language studies has helped inaugurate a program in which older students studying Spanish tutor Spanish-speaking elementary school children.

Kirsten McAlister, a 17-year-old junior at Bloomfield Hills Lahser High School , had studied Spanish for years but said she wished she had acquired more fluency in the language.

“I took Spanish through fifth grade, but in middle school we ended up learning the same things we’d done in fifth grade, which was really disappointing because I wanted to learn more” she told The Detroit News for a story Monday.

“This year, it happened again,” she said. “We weren’t really learning new things, and I just decided I wanted to learn Spanish in more of a realistic setting.”

In the fall, McAlister proposed a program in which high school students tutor Spanish-speaking elementary children, who face problems in school because they cannot speak English.

In January, her proposal became a reality with an after-school, three-times-a-week tutoring program at Alcott Elementary School in Pontiac .

About 40 Alcott children get one-on-one help with their reading, writing and mathematics homework.

“A lot of them lived very different lives in their home country,” said Luz Telleria, director of the Pontiac Urban League Hispanic Outreach, which worked with McAlister to create the program. “Here, they get help, and they also get self-esteem from the kids, because the kids are interested in Spanish and in their home country. That means a great deal to them.”

This month, some students from Auburn Hills Avondale High School joined the program. McAlister said she hopes it spreads to all Oakland County high schools so that hundreds of Latino children in Pontiac can get help.

“I used to really not like school because I would try to read a book, and it was hard,” said Luis Castillo, 10, who immigrated from Puerto Rico two years ago. “Now I can read, and they ask me to do more because they think I speak English very good.”

Ana Roca, who teaches Spanish and linguistics at Florida International University in Miami , recently offered advice to a college professor in Maine about teaching native Spanish speakers.

“Now, a few years ago, if you had told me someone from Maine would want to meet to talk to me about issues regarding starting a Spanish-for-native-speakers section, I would have said, ‘ Maine . That doesn’t sound likely.’ But it is,” said Roca , who co-edited a book, “Mi lengua: Spanish as a Heritage Language in the United States .”

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages estimates about 141,000 middle- and high-schoolers in 2000 were enrolled in Spanish classes designed specifically for native Spanish speakers. The group is conducting another survey this year and expects a significant increase.

At the high school level, the courses often resemble traditional language arts classes with an emphasis on grammar, vocabulary and writing instruction in Spanish. At the elementary level, the classes often include English and Spanish speakers learning one portion of the curriculum in one language and the rest in the other language, said Marty Abbott, the council’s education director.

When done well, she said, the classes can help Spanish speakers—a group with traditionally lower-than-average test scores and above-average dropout rates—connect with their schools. She said there has been a rise in native Spanish speakers taking Advanced Placement Spanish courses—and succeeding.

“I think that helps students see an academic vision for themselves, that there’s a reason to stay in school,” she said.

The classes aren’t without their challenges. Students come from different Spanish-speaking countries and different regions, each with its own dialect. Some children arrive in class just days after arriving in the United States , while others were born in the United States and grew up speaking mostly English.

In Emporia , teacher Daniel Sánchez’s class includes five or six newcomers. Some don’t have an academic background in English or Spanish, leaving them struggling to write in either language. Sánchez switches back and forth between English and Spanish to reach both newcomers and the students who grew up in America .

Sánchez talks with his students about his own struggles learning English. He immigrated to the United States from México when he was in high school so his parents could work at a meatpacking plant in Garden City in western Kansas . He also worked at the packing plant during his last semester of high school and summers in college.

“If a few students can benefit from learning a more academic Spanish that can be used in the work force, it’s always a benefit,” he said, “not just to a certain group but to everyone.”

Editor’s Note: Rico de La Prensa contributed to this report.






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