The Miami Herald
Wed, July 14, 2004
Route to boost bilingual skills touted
Today, the School Board will consider a proposed public awareness
campaign that targets the missing link in foreign language instruction
in the middle schools.
BY NIKKI WALLER
When classes resume next month at North Miami Beach Senior High,
ninth-grade Spanish teacher Rodolfo Carbajales says he will probably
have to start over from hola, even though most of his students have had
some language instruction in elementary school.
''There's no continuity because so few students have Spanish in middle
school,'' he said. ``By the time they get to high school, they've
either forgotten or lost their interest.''
Middle school is the missing link in producing bilingual, bi-literate
graduates in Spanish and other languages, say local business owners and
education officials. In an attempt to bridge the gap, a
public-awareness campaign to boost foreign-language enrollment in
middle and high schools is up for approval at today's Miami-Dade School
Board meeting, which starts at 1 p.m.
If approved, the campaign would enlist corporate partners to help
create and fund TV, radio and print ads that show the advantages of
bi-literacy, says Joanne Urrutia, head of the schools' Division of
Bilingual Education and World Languages. The start-up cost is about
Even though many Miami-Dade residents speak both English and
español, only 17 percent of middle-school students were enrolled
in any foreign language class last school year. That's a steep drop-off
from elementary school, where nearly 95 percent of the students receive
some form of foreign-language education, which is part of the core
''We're ashamed of these figures,'' said Urrutia. ``But if we don't
talk about them, they'll never improve.''
Peter Roulhac, the school system's new chief development officer, said
that being truly bilingual means having more than just conversational
''It's understanding and conducting meetings in both languages,'' said
Roulhac, who will be the district's chief liaison with the local
business community. ``Until we are producing those young people, the
reputation of the school system will not be what we want it to be.''
Schools are having great difficulty pushing foreign language in the
middle schools, where students can choose their own schedules for the
first time, Urrutia said.
''For students to be fully bilingual, they need instruction in those
years,'' she said.
Neither the state nor the district requires students to take a foreign
language. Yet more than a third of high-school students are enrolled in
classes, partly because most universities require at least two years of
foreign language, Urrutia said.
Educators say the problem with low enrollment in foreign language
classes is not resources. The Miami-Dade school district ranks ninth in
the country in state funding for bilingual education, according to the
But those classes must compete with the myriad of electives such as
band or cooking -- and often lose out.
The regimen of standardized tests mandated by the federal No Child Left
Behind law also cuts into foreign-language instruction because students
with poor scores often take extra classes in reading and math.
Such double-dosing squeezes out electives such as foreign language,
said Mercedes Toural, the district's chief education officer. ``It's
eating away at schedules so much that some children have no chance of
taking any electives whatsoever.''
Last year, Urrutia's staff compared the Florida Comprehensive
Assessment Test scores of fourth- and fifth-graders at 16 schools.
Students enrolled in dual-language programs, where some classes are
taught in Spanish, outperformed students taking all-English courses on
both reading and math tests.
''Language teachers across the country feel as though their classes are
being forced out of the curriculum,'' said Reg White, president of the
National Education Association. ``They feel pushed by testing, as if
their passion for the subject is unrequited.''
Starved for a fully bi-literate workforce, the local business community
is working with county schools to improve. The Greater Miami Chamber of
Commerce began a partnership with county school four years ago with the
English and One More program that encouraged dual-language programs in
schools. Urrutia hopes the chamber will work with her department again.
''We are a financial hub and a trade capital, and for the workforce
here, with bi-literacy comes more success,'' said Rosa Sugranes, owner
of Iberia Tile and a leader of the English Plus One initiative.
Jackie Garcia, president of the Shenandoah Middle School PTA, agrees.
She grew up speaking Spanish at home, but it wasn't until her children
enrolled in dual-language programs at Shenandoah that Garcia realized
just speaking Spanish wasn't enough.
''I could hold conversations, but I never realized that I wasn't
educated,'' said Garcia, an office manager.
After several years of reviewing homework with her two children, David
13, and Sarah,15, Garcia considers herself fully bi-literate and said
that the ability to speak business-caliber Spanish has made her better
at her job.
''One of the dangers in Miami is that we have so many kids who speak
Spanish so well, but there are different kinds of Spanish you need,''
said Dr. Walter Secada, a professor at the University of Miami's School
of Education. ``At the end of elementary school, you don't have skills
adequate to jump to Spanish and develop literacy on the college level.
You need something in between.''