Profiles of Heritage Language Programs in
Various California Schools
Woodland High School by Jaime Rocha
Urban High School (grades 9-12) in Northern California with about 1800 students enrolled (47% Hispanic, 47% Caucasian, 6% Other ethnicities). The Spanish for Native Speakers (SNS) program is a 4-year program with levels 1, 2, 4 Honors (AP Language), and 5 (AP Literature)
Currently, there is not a system in place to assess student proficiency in Spanish before enrolling in the SNS series. Students who speak Spanish at home are enrolled in SNS 1 in grade 9. The teacher then assesses their written and oral competences in class within the first two weeks of school to make placement recommendations, if necessary.
Level 3 is part of the Spanish as a Foreign Language program. These students then can go into regular Level 4 or Honors 4 (AP Language).
Modesto High School has a population of 3,000 students, of whom 45% are Hispanic or Latino, although not all are Spanish Speaking. Students in our Spanish Speakers classes come from a diverse background, but fall into two general categories. The “native speakers” of Spanish tend to be immigrants or first generation in America and often had their early education in Spanish. This group includes both recent immigrants who have had little or no educational background and those who may have completed some high school education in a Spanish speaking country, generally Mexico. The second group, who we might call “bilingual students”, while speaking Spanish at home have been educated principally or exclusively in English. Some of these students have limited literacy skills in English, however many are functioning at grade level in English and bring many language arts strengths to the study of Spanish.
We currently offer four levels of Spanish for Spanish Speakers and prepare students to take both the AP Spanish Language and Literature exams. The first year focuses on basic literacy and includes reading, writing and culture. The literacy focus continues in level two, with emphasis on writing AP language style essays, beginning analysis of the readings, and study of the history, culture and current reality of the Spanish speaking countries. The third and fourth year focus specifically on the AP Spanish literature curriculum and the development of skills necessary to pass the AP literature exam.
Recruitment for these classes begins the semester before each new school year. Counselors often send potential students to us for assessment. Also, as current students ballot for classes, our data entry clerk cross references those students who have signed up for regular Spanish but whose home language is listed as Spanish. We then develop lists of these students for the counselors who call them in for a brief screening (a 10 minute writing sample in Spanish). We evaluate the writing samples and recommend placement. The critical skill we look for in these samples is the ability to communicate the message with competence. While correct spelling and knowledge of accent rules are not important in these writing samples and we are not looking for standard Spanish, students should demonstrate relatively intact structure. Finally, we attempt to reach incoming junior high students as well, primarily through the assistance of the A.V.I.D. coordinators.
Once the school year begins, we test the students in the first year Spanish Speaker classes to ensure that placement is appropriate. The evaluation we use (“Prueba de ubicación”) is an ancillary of the Nuestro mundo text (McDougal Littell). This evaluation gives us a placement level with which we are able to identify those students who are prepared to move directly to the second level, those who are correctly placed in level one and those students who would benefit more from placement in a class for non-native speakers. At the same time, the teachers of the regular Spanish classes alert us to students in their classes who may qualify for classes for Spanish Speakers.
While our students’ success is encouraging, the program is not without problems. Class size requirements are a constant issue as we often need to combine the third and fourth levels. To accommodate, we have attempted to alternate texts, teaching one half of the curriculum one year and the second half the next year. In so doing, students in levels three and four receive the entire curriculum no matter when they begin. However, this approach prevents sequencing the curriculum by level of difficulty. Also, it is more difficult to focus on the skill needs of each group. We are considering eliminating the fourth level and preparing the students to take the literature exam in the third year. In order to do so, we plan to present the more accessible AP texts in the first and second years. Such a plan would allow more students to complete the entire curriculum and take the AP exams.
In an era of competing demands, emphasis on the core subjects and preparation for the end of year normative exams, we must be effective advocates for our programs. We nurture the natural connection between our Spanish for Spanish Speakers classes and other academic disciplines, particularly English/Language Arts and Social Sciences. Where possible, we use the similar processes and activities (e.g. essay development, Cornell Notes) and identify connections between the disciplines (e.g. poetry analysis, the relationship between history and literature). Counselors and A.V.I.D. advisors also can see the benefit of our classes in preparation for college.
While academic success and college preparation are obvious attributes of this program, development of a broader cultural awareness and appreciation are also important outcomes. For some students, the cultural ties outside of the family may be primarily the radio and television. As students can begin to make connections between their lives and the works of literature, their cultural perspective expands. They may begin to see their cultural inheritance in Chicano literature, Mexican literature and the breadth of Spanish literature. They can also make connections between the Spanish literature and other world literature, comparing, for example, the sonnets of Shakespeare to those of Garcilaso, Góngora and Sor Juana. They begin to see common themes in their Spanish and English classes. As many read The Taming of the Shrew in English, they are surprised to find that the similar story from El conde Lucanor predates Shakespeare. I generally begin the year with Sabine Ulibarrís poem “¿Quién eres?”, a poem that underscores that role cultural heritage plays in identity. Two of my former students are sisters, immigrants in the early elementary years, who submersed in an English speaking environment in school from that point on. They have supportive parents and did well in school. They were also very engaged in their Spanish for Spanish Speaking classes and constantly made connections with those classes and their English, history, and anthropology classes. Both now attend U.C. campuses. The younger recently sent me a note expressing what the Spanish classes meant to her. In referring to Ulibarrí’s poem, she said these classes taught her to question “¿Quién soy?” (who am I?) and embarked her on that journey of self and cultural exploration, and journey that is only beginning.
Profile for El Camino High School Spanish Classes and Population
In our department, all current (2005-6) classes are language acquisition classes: Spanish 1,2,3,4, AP Language, and AP Literature. There is no existing program for heritage speakers, but we perceive a need for one. We have discussed the matter with counseling and administration who are supportive. Given budget constraints, it is unlikely that we could add another section. We believe that many native speakers/heritage language students are already enrolled in language acquisition classes which would allow us to begin the native speaker program by redistributing enrollment.
Ultimately, we envision this redistribution would free up two sections and separate the existing Spanish 4 and AP Literature classes which are currently taught as a combination class despite the distinct curricula. Our intent is to implement the Spanish for Spanish Speakers 1 class for the 2006-7 school year, the second level for the 2007-8 school year, and separate the Spanish 4 and AP Literature classes for the 2008-9 school year.
Although we have not developed criteria for placement, it is probable that modification of our current practices will be sufficient. At the moment, our district offers a challenge test that allows proficient students to earn a year’s credits without having taken course work. Further placement in advanced levels is determined by teacher judgment.