Profiles of Heritage Language Programs in
Various California Schools

This page is offers a survey of some of the Spanish heritage language programs throughout California. Teachers who complied these descriptions were part of a National Endowment for the Humanities workshop in the summer of 2005. These profiles are examples of the various ways a school or district can begin to serve their students.

Profile 1

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)

Student Placement

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).

Profile 2

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 3

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.

Profile 4

Anderson Valley High School is a small rural school with a population of 120 students. The student body is 53% Spanish Speaking. There is only one Spanish teacher. Currently we offer two Spanish courses for Spanish Speaking students, Spanish for Native Speakers, which is AP Spanish Language, and AP Spanish Lit. The majority of the students are first generation, children of Mexican farm-workers. Many were born in the US, some are immigrants. The average educational level of the parents is third grade in rural Mexico. All the students are fluent in oral Spanish, however, frequently they have low literacy skills in Spanish and in English. The High School has a graduation requirement of one year of foreign language. We offer American Sign Language and Spanish. Due to the schedule, usually Spanish Speaking students take Spanish for Native Speakers their Junior year, and Spanish Lit their Senior year. The content for Spanish for Native Speakers is a combination of Chicano History and ortografia.. I am in the process of adding more literature.

Profile 5

Sample of Placement Process for Spanish Speaker Program

Montebello High School Montebello Unified School District Montebello, California

Montebello High School is located 10 minutes east of East Los Angeles in Los Angeles County. The school population is predominantly Latino with about a 90-94% making up the school demographics. The remainder percentage includes the Armenian, Asian, Pacific Islanders, African American and Anglo population. Foreign Language Department has discovered that the Spanish Speaking students were not being properly serviced in the Spanish as a Foreign Language class. For this reason, the Spanish for Spanish Speaker classes were designed and implemented. This program is called the Spanish Honors Program, because the students have a literature based, rigorous and challenging curriculum which is preparing them for the AP Spanish Language and Literature courses. These students receive honors credit for these courses.

There is an initial screening process that starts at the eighth grade level at our feeder intermediate schools. Teachers from the foreign language department interview Spanish Speakers to check for proficiency and fluency followed by a brief written sample from them to check for writing skills. If a student passes the interview (understands and responds in Spanish) and their writing sample is deemed as acceptable (can or potential to succeed in first year of program). These students are now enrolled in Spanish Honors 1-2. In addition, these students are given the opportunity to take the District Spanish 1-2 Challenge Exam. This exam has been created by the Spanish teachers from our district. It consists of a multiple choice section, fill in the blanks, and composition. The exam tests proficiency in vocabulary, grammar and writing. If student passes this exam, they are able to skip first year and be enrolled in the second year class of the program, receiving 10 credits for the first year (Spanish 1-2)

The students who have been enrolled in first year (Spanish honors 1-2) will now be given the opportunity and the end of the first year to take the District Spanish 3-4 Challenge Exam. The format is the same as the 1-2 exam, but adjusted to a higher level. The students who pass this exam can now be enrolled in AP Spanish Language or Literature, and receive 10 credits for Spanish 3-4.

The program has been very successful and the students have benefited greatly from it. Of course, it is not error proof. There are students who are missed, students who opt not to participate in the Honors program, misplacements and such. But we work together and make an effort to reach the Spanish Speakers to give them the opportunity to experience the rich curriculum, embrace culture, enrich their knowledge and prepare them for AP, which in turn, will give them an advantage in the quest for higher education.

Profile 6

Our Students

Our school is located in Southern California in an area referred to as the South Bay area and consists of approximately 2,500 students. We have a diverse student body with a significant population of Spanish speakers. The students that are recruited for our Spanish Native Speakers course consists primarily of second and third generation Spanish speakers who are currently communicating or have communicated in Spanish for a significant amount of time at home or in their community.

We offer three different levels of Spanish for Native Speakers courses.

The first of the three is entitled, Spanish for Native Speakers 5/6 and includes students who have little or no experience writing in Spanish yet comprehend and verbally communicate in the language. The intermediate level is entitled, Spanish for Native Speakers 7/8 and includes middle school students from feeder schools that have been interviewed and tested into this level, in addition to newly arrived students from Spanish speaking countries who have also been interviewed and tested. Also included are those students who have successfully completed Spanish for Native Speakers 5/6 the prior year. Our third and final level is entitled, Spanish for Native Speakers 9/10 which is also recognized as an AP Language course. These students consists primarily of students who have successfully completed the prior level yet there are special cases in which newly arrived students from Spanish speaking countries have tested into. In addition to these three levels specifically designed for native speakers our school offers an AP Literature course whereby both Spanish Native speaking students and non-Native Spanish speakers are instructed.

Our recruiting process begins in the spring time and is conducted by the director of the Spanish department at our high school. Middle school teachers identify possible Spanish native speakers that they think may meet the preliminary requirements for the course. Later, they schedule a time for individual student interviews. Students are also asked to write on a specific prompt to assess their proficiency in the language. In addition, students are given a standardized type if test to assess their formal instruction in the Spanish language. The interviews are held at the student’s school site and the standardized tests are corrected while the individual writing samples are reviewed. Both the director of the foreign language department and the individual teachers conducting the native speakers courses review the assessment results and decide on the appropriate level for each student.

Profile 7

Napa High School Profile

The student population at Napa High School for the 2004-2005 school year was 2474. The student population is composed of 52.2% White, 42.6% Hispanic and 5.1 other. Our school offers the following one-year Spanish courses:

At Napa High School we have the following procedure in placing students in Spanish Speakers and AP courses. Usually the counselors and administrators go to the Middle Schools in May and give a presentation of the courses offered. Based on the information presented at the Middle Schools, the teachers at the MS refer students. Before students attend the first day of school at Napa High, we offer a Freshmen Orientation, usually a day before school begins. Only freshmen students are invited on our campus on this day and they attend every class on their schedule for 10-15 minutes. Students are able to meet their teachers on this day as well as other students entering the ninth grade. Teachers inform students about the nature of the class and the requirements necessary to be enrolled in it. If there are any discrepancies with their language placement, students are immediately referred to the counselor. Once classes begin teachers give an informal assessment to their students and work with the counselors to place students in the most appropriate level.