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California School Bringing Immigrant Families Together to Learn English

A California school is bringing immigrant families together in the classroom to learn English. School officials in Anaheim say an innovative program called "The English Academy" is helping both the students and their parents.

Principal Debra Schroeder of the Thomas Edison School in Anaheim, California, explains that her teachers had a problem. In a school that is 97 percent Hispanic, many children are new immigrants and speak little English. Neither do their parents.

She says the kids learn English quickly. "Oh my goodness, children learn English so fast, it's amazing. I wish I could learn Spanish as fast as they're learning English," she says.

But many immigrant parents have trouble with the language, so some take part in a computer class at the elementary school each morning.

Teacher Rhonda Oglevie says the adults in the class do the same exercises that their children do. "Right now, they're doing a program called Rosetta Stone, which teaches English language and reading, where they match pictures to the sounds that they're reading and the sentences that they're reading," she says.

In the classroom are 32 state-of-the-art computers, about 20 youngsters and, on a typical day, as many as eight parents. The teacher moves from workstation to workstation, offering assistance.

Teacher: "Can you make it so that your mom can hear, too?"
Student: "OK."
Teacher:"Now press the arrow. And you need to press A-1."

The computer responds with a spoken English sentence.

Computer: "The man is pushing the cart."
Teacher: "Which one of those pictures has a man pushing the cart? Is this one a man?"
Student: "No."

Other students work on a science project about the solar system. Some compose computer presentations.

"The finished ones have started a new project where they're putting planetary data into an Excel spreadsheet and they're learning how to graph information, like distance from the sun, all sorts of information like that," says Ms. Oglevie.

Parent Dolores Reyes has been attending the class at Edison school for the past three months. She says she comes so she can learn English and everything else her children are learning, so that she can help them.

Rosa Vargas is working nearby on another computer. Ms. Vargas says she has never worked with computers before and is happy to learn to use them with her children.

Both women are from Mexico. So is Enrique Hernandes, a recent immigrant who is learning English with his daughter. He says his two children are helping him, and adds that it is never too late to learn.

Teacher Rhonda Oglevie says the joint learning program also helps her students. She says youngsters whose parents participate, tend to excel at their studies. And in this class more than others, parents and students are eager to finish assignments.

Teacher:"Who can be finished by the end of today?"
Student: "Me."
Teacher: "That'll be great. And if you are about ready to finish your project, your goal is to finish it in 21 minutes. OK? Get going."

Officials estimate that 1.5 million children in California schools are learning English. So are their parents, who either study the language on their own or attend special adult classes.

At the Thomas Edison School, these parents are learning English, and computer skills, together with their children. Anaheim school officials say they may have created a model for other schools to follow.