Alternative Method of Bilingual Education
In this peer reviewed journal article “A Speech Community Model of Bilingual Education: Educating Latino Newcomers in the USA” written by Ofelia Garcia and Lesley Bartlett the authors find a way to address the current problem of bilingual education in the US. They do so by conducting a qualitative case study at a segregated bilingual high school for Latino newcomers. They base their study off of a community high school in New York by the name of Gregorio Luperon High School. This specific school has a majority of Dominican students in a city with one of the highest drug and crime rates, however they were able to find success with their Speech Community Model of bilingual education for immigrant youth. The main key to this success was to “view second language acquisition as a social process building on the speech community itself, and not just as the primary individual process.” (Par.1)
Gregorio Luperon High School is a community high school located in Washington Heights, New York. The school opened back in 1991 when a group of Dominican immigrants joined together to find a way to make acquiring English an easier process for latino immigrant youth. They wanted a solution to the extremely high failure rates of latino youth in the New York City School systems. This school began as just a couple month program before students were put into main stream schools but eventually in 1999 turned into an actually high school. This school comes from a neighborhood that has a majority of Dominicans, as well as one of the highest city crime rates, right behind Harlem. This Schools instructors are also all highly qualified immigrant Dominicans who can relate and connect to their students on a whole different level.
Bilingual Education is a topic that has never fully been supported across the US. According to the most recent numbers available from the U.S. Department of Education There were about 5 million students classified as “English language learners” in the 2009-2010 school year. These English learners are at a distinct disadvantage and are thrown into main stream schools without qualified 2
teachers to instruct them. There is very little consistency in these programs used to educate these students as well as many disagreements with states who favor the “English-only approach.” Gregorio Luperon High School in Washington Heights wanted better for their immigrant youth and found a better alternative method to acquire the language. This specific High School used a method which they chose to call the speech community model of bilingual education. They focus on macroacquisition; which is learning language on a larger scale. The three factors they choose to focus on that have shown to be the most important in acquiring a second language were; identifying with identity and culture, power structure influencing language and the roles the communities play in learning a language. In this study they conducted they focused on specific research questions
The Research conducted by Garcia and Bartlett was taken from a qualitative case study where they introduced an alternative method to meet the needs of latino immigrant youth. In this research these specific questions were addressed; “How does the model of this school differ from and how is it similar to other models now offered for latino adolescents in the US?”,” What are the characteristics of this model that support newcomer latino youths' education as well as their English learning language?” And “What are the limitations of this model?? This article written by Garcia and Bartlett point out the important aspects of this alternative model for bilingual education used and show how and why these unique methods are successful for these latino newcomers.
In this speech community model used by the school they focused on seven main factors. They believed that these factors would be successful and would be able to make youth more comfortable speaking freely, help them identify and feel more comfortable with their identity as well as equalizing the power relations between English and Spanish. They believe these seven factors are responsible for their students passing the Regents Exam and graduating High School. These successful factors used are ; the absence of students who are native speakers of English, presence of native Spanish-speaking 3
latino teachers as the students models. Also the high status this school gives spanish and specific English language acquisition targets. They use bilingualism as their teaching strategy and use Spanish to educate rigorously and Spanish to connect deeply to each individual student. They conducted this study by observing and gathering data and used an analytic inductive approach. They wrote fieldnotes after each observation and interview and began to find connections to their hypothesis. The authors met together every three weeks to review the data collected and to discuss. From there they were able to form the seven characteristics mentioned earlier that they believed would make Luperon school successful in their mission of helping latino immigrants pass the Regents exam and graduate high school.
Garcia and Bartlett did a very thorough job in providing enough information in their article for future professors, bilingual educators and linguists to comprehend. This article not only found a successful alternative method to acquiring english for latino newcomers but it also provided a in depth background of bilingual education being a issue as a whole. Bilingual Education is a hot topic today and many immigrants are being thrown into mainstream schools expecting to pick up English without the proper tools and guidance. Luperon however wanted better for their students. Luperon residing in an Latino community with many latino immigrants formed a program that allowed their students to not only feel comfortable with their culture and in their school settings but receive the skills to pass the Regents Exam and graduate high school.
Regardless of the undeniable success that Luperon received in this program, I do believe their were limitations to this study conducted by Garcia and Bartlett. The first limitation of this study being the segregation of these students. Placing these students into this segregated high school may allow them to acquire what they need to graduate high school but what about after that? Passing the Regents Exam and graduating high school is just one small stepping stone they have reached compared to the 4
long journey they have ahead of them. Also by segregating these students the English they acquire is still limited and from what they gain being in this program they lose by not being around english native speakers. Is this english they acquired from this model enough to get them a job? Do any of these students continue their education and go to College? If they do get a job and continue their education is their English strong enough that they will succeed not only academically but in Society and in their Community? These are all questions I would have liked to see answered in this article written by Garcia and Bartlett. Some sort of paragraph where they addressed the “Aftermath” of this study. They did a great job focusing on the model and why and how it was successful and even what the success rates were but I wish they could have followed up a year or so later on students and found where they were at in life. Doing this I believe would have given the study more credibility, allowing me and other readers to see that this program did not just help the students over this school year but continued to carry on and help them succeed academically and in Society as well.
Garcia and Bartlett provide the readers with a successful and alternative method into bilingual education. There is such little consistency in all the bilingual education programs provided all over the US, knowledge of a successful program like this can potentially be a huge step in a positive direction for this controversial topic. Just Simply incorporating some of the ideas that the authors suggested and used in their article can be beneficial for future teachers, linguists and policy makers. They believed that the main key to the success of this model was to view second language acquisition as more of a social process building on the speech community itself , and not just the primary individual process. They did this by choosing to focus on three important factors that seem to be ignored in all other bilingual programs around the US; identifying with identity and culture, power structure influencing language and the roles the communities play in learning a language. “This speech community model of the school provides the oxygen in the safe island these students need to learn and succeed socially and 5
academically.” This is a program that hopefully can be adapted by schools all around the US, to give the immigrants a chance to succeed not only academically but socially as well.
García, O. and Bartlett, L. 2007. A speech community model of Bilingual Education: Educating Latino Newcomers in the U.S.International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 10: 1-25.