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In order to learn more about the bilingual education program in the Public School system, we felt it would be essential to discuss a few controversial issues with some bilingual teachers, and ask them for their opinion on the effectiveness of the system and the concept of bilingual education. We also questioned the benefits and disadvantages of the program. We wrote and asked these question with Latino (Puerto Rican) migrants in mind, however the Public School system consists of many ethnic groups which speak other languages other than Spanish. As one of the teachers stated, the political connotation that Bilingual Education carries is that of concerning only Spanish and English. We interviewed Mrs. Aida Ramos (Vice-Principal), Ms. Clara Velez (Bilingual Math Teacher), Mrs. Irene Killian (TESOL), Ms. Zoraida Ortiz (Bilingual Science Teacher), and Ms. Nancy Harrison (TESOL/Bilingual Computer Lab Teacher).
When we asked these teachers whether they supported or were against the bilingual education system, they each shouted their answer as if it were instinctive. Although they had different reasons why, each and every one of the teachers said they supported the system without a doubt. We were given a multitude of reasons why bilingual education is advantageous. Ms. Velez stated that she supports bilingual education because, first and foremost, she is a product of it, and second because she believes the program allows the children to earn credit and learn the language at the same time. She said that if the non-English speaking child were immersed in the English mainstream classes they will fail, and as a result the already high drop out rate of Latinos would increase. Ms. Harrison felt that the bilingual education program would be even stronger and more effective if it served more of the ethnic groups in Hartford. The Vietnamese, Lao, and Albanian students are often put in transitional classes because there are not enough in that particular ethnic group to create a bilingual class that will help them to learn English, while maintaining their primary language. Presently, the state requires twenty students who need assistance in the same language to hire a teacher to create a class for them. She also stated that the students in bilingual education classes have just as many difficulties in academics as do the students in mainstream education, and that the bilingual education program is often used as a scapegoat for those students not achieving.
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When asked whether they thought the program will advance and expand in the future or be eliminated, they replied by stating that it definitely should not be eliminated. They said that the future of the bilingual education program is really in the hands of the pending state laws, the leaders of the Board of Education in Hartford, and present migratory patterns. One of the teachers stated that the in the future, bilingual education is essential because individuals will have to conduct business transactions in more than just English and Spanish. They felt that if the program were to be eliminated, there will be a higher drop out rate among Latino students as a result of students failing out of mainstream classes.
As much as these teachers supported bilingual education, they surprisingly felt that bilingual education is important for one to maintain their culture and identity but not essential. One teacher replied by saying that if their cultures and traditions were not reinforced in school, then they would be reinforced at home. If the interest is there, then one will take the initiative to reach back to their roots and learn about their culture. Acculturation and a bit of assimilation, and integration are all natural phenomenons. While this phenomenon is occurring, new communities and subcultures evolve. This is where the notions of the "Nuyorican" come into play. The term "Nuyorican" is used to describe Puerto Ricans living in New York. A major difference between bilingual education and mainstream education is the appreciation of one’s culture. In bilingual education one’s primary culture is valued whereas it is not even considered in mainstream education. There is a stronger sense of pride and confidence in their culture for those enrolled in the bilingual program, and for some of the students taking part in the mainstream English classes, a sense of loss of identity is evident. Some students go as far as denying or hiding their true identity.
When asked if bilingual education made it harder or easier for individuals to go out in the real world and find jobs or further their education, every teacher responded by saying that it is obviously easier for them if they are literate and fluent in one language and at least partially fluent in the other. That is, if the students in the program acquire the skills that they are supposed to acquire while they are in the program. They are also privileged with a richer culture and multiple languages, as one of the teachers stated.
When we asked for the average amount of time a child stays in the bilingual education program, the teachers replied that the student has a mandatory three years in the program. If after those three years the student has learned enough English to be successful in mainstream education, then they will be exited from the program. Using results of the test which is given to determine whether or not a student is ready to exit the program, teachers will also determine whether or not the student is ready for mainstream education or if the student needs more time.
Cruz, José. Identity and Power: Puerto Rican Politics and the
Challenge of Ethnicity. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press,
James Dietz, Economic History of Puerto Rico (Princeton:
Princeton U Press, 1986), 98-134
Fernandez, Ronald, "The Disenchanted Island", (Praeger,
Westport, Connecticut London) 1996
Figueroa-Martínez, Luis. ed. Hist. 247 Reader. (January 1998).
Pagan, Armando. "Puerto Ricans in Hartford and the legacy of
the Underclass." Undergraduate Senior Thesis submitted to the
Department of History, Trinity College, May 1999
Interviews from Park Street residents (5/5/99): Francisco
Acevedo, Liz Perez-Balesky, Epifanio Garcia
Interviews with Bilingual Education faculty at Hartford Public
Highschool (5/6/99): Mrs. Aida Ramos (Vice-Principal), Ms. Clara
Velez (Bilingual Math Teacher), Mrs. Irene Killian (TESOL), Ms.
Zoraida Ortiz (Bilingual Science Teacher), and Ms. Nancy Harrison
(TESOL/Bilingual Computer Lab Teacher).