Last Sunday I took our four oldest grandchildren, ages 11 to 7, to the huge barns and 4-H judging of the San Antonio Livestock Show. Afterwards I drove south to meet my daughter and give back her three children. That left me with seven-year-old Carlo, who goes to Carl Schurz Elementary, where they have a unique bilingual program: all students speak 90% Spanish in their classrooms through the 3rd grade. It’s like reverse ESL. Carlo has been there two years and speaks/reads/writes Spanish fluently. After the first year, he was correcting my son’s and daughter’s-in-law pronunciations whenever they spoke Spanish to him. (They learned Spanish in order to spend two years in Nicaragua with the Peace Corps.) It is a great concept. There is a waiting list for enrollment. Many parents would like to see more languages taught that way from the get-go.
The original ESL(English as a Second Language) program has been around for decades. Children of Hispanic immigrants have usually been in separated classrooms and spoken to in Spanish with little bits and pieces of English thrown in. ESL has not worked effectively from its onset, unfortunately for the children. That has been due totally to slow teaching not slow children. ESL has a demeaning concept: Hispanic children won’t be able to pick up English easily and eagerly. Thus, they have been coddled into illiteracy and its consequences. (Social promotion was also a stupid idea.) Young brains are capable of so much and to limit their educational intake because of where they are born is shameful. What this federal program should have done was insist that parents participate and learn English alongside their children.
Carlo and the other students at Carl Schurz have become exceptional learners due to this extraordinary Spanish/English teaching concept. They recently participated in a school-wide spelling bee that was entirely in English. The 26 classroom winners from 2nd through 5th grades went on to compete in the school-wide event a few weeks ago. Carlo and another 2nd grader stayed in the competition until they were part of the last seven spellers; they beat most of the older children. Unfortunately, the second graders did not win that day, but they certainly triumphed. Memorizing words in English when they mostly speak Spanish in class is a great accomplishment. Carlo expects to do much better next year. “I knew how to spell civics,” he explained, “but my brain turned off.” He did quite well sitting still during the 2-hour event, but he obviously was getting bored towards the end.
Carlo is wearing the plaid shirt. He was the smallest contestant, but he spoke with one of the clearest and strongest voices. Since I was too shy to talk in front of people, as a child and teenager, I was amazed by Carlo’s ability to do so. His mom and I couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t nervous.
As Carlo and I drove back to New Braunfels last Sunday, he wished he had brought a book or two to read. (He has been reading since age three.) His ipod battery was depleted, as well, so I started a conversation by asking him a couple questions. We talked about science and animals. Then he began telling me about his imaginary world of cars, alien hunters, and spies. I listened to him and added a few comments here and there. He finally paused for a moment and then asked, “What was I talking about?” This cracked me up, but I managed to put him back on track without laughing.
If a kid can lose his/her train of thought, then I shouldn’t feel so bad. It happens to everyone, young and not-at-all young. Our minds are filled with so much stuff – good, bad, useful, useless – we cannot possibly keep track of it all at any given moment. Of course, as we age, our train-of-thought makes more stops, but that doesn’t mean we have to be station-housed. I think of my mind as a database filled with a plethora of information. If I’m asked an obscure question, I just have to delve deeper into the archives to find the answer. However, the longer I go without being asked an obscure question, the more likely it is that my archives might have permanently sealed-off, which is totally frustrating.
The medical transcription course I have been going through definitely rekindled a dormant part of my mind, It thrilled me to know I was not past learning, not in the least. It has been fascinating and thoroughly satisfying to study and learn a whole new “language,” to further expand the contents of my database with scads of medical terminology. So what if I can’t remember where my cell phone is?