In 2011, Highland Park is, as it has been for most of its history, a community in transition. From the Tongva to the Spaniards, Spaniards to the Anglo settlers, and Anglos to Mexican-Americans, Highland Park is a community in constant flux. Over the past decade or so there has been a movement of middle class white families back into the neighborhood. The availability of affordable homes and the pull of the arts and culture scene in Highland Park has drawn a growing number of new residents. With this has come tension, and accusations of gentrification. William Deverell spoke about this collision of cultures and people in earlier chapters, detailing the ongoing struggle in Highland Park for each new community to assert itself and the conflict that can ensue. At Aldama Elementary School on North Avenue 50 an experiment is taking place that seeks to mediate this conflict through communication and language, specifically a dual language immersion program for Spanish and English speaking students.
Dual-language programs offer children who are English language learners (ELL's) and those that are native English speakers an opportunity to learn both home languages and the cultural traditions of both communities. These programs began in Florida in the 1960s and began to grow in California after the passage of Proposition 227 in 1998. That proposition effectively ended bilingual education programs in the state and replaced them with the Structured English Immersion model. The stated goal of the proposition was to educate students with Limited English proficiency in a rapid, one-year program. The proposition was part of a series of controversial propositions in the 1990s targeting state policies geared towards communities of color, specifically Latinos and immigrants.
After 227 passed the Los Angeles Unified School District moved all ELL students into rapid English immersion programs with little promotion of other options to parents, including dual-language, which would be made available if there were at least 20 interested families. In 2008 parents at Aldama Elementary School in Highland Park came together to request the program for their children. Currently the program services children K-3 and will eventually serve kids up to the 6th grade.
The program has been incredibly successful for the children and the school, with their test scores out performing other nearby schools. This has been true in similar programs throughout the state and country. Dual-language programs offer students an opportunity to expand their vocabulary and studies have shown that when children are utilizing two languages they are expanding their overall ability to learn. The added benefit is the cultural exchange that takes place. The value of their home language is affirmed for ELL's and often the children become mentors for each other. A sense of pride and value is given to the experiences and knowledge each child brings to the classroom.
The Dual Language Immersion Program at Aldama Elementary School is providing a useful bridge for parents, staff and children in Highland Park during a time of cultural and social transition. It is enriching the academic and cultural lives of the students and creating a space where the adults can have a thoughtful and positive conversation about the demographic and economic changes taking place in their community.
Above, Spanish language teacher in Aldama Elementary School's dual immersion program Angelina Saenz describes the program's operation and its cultural and educational benefits; author, journalist and Loyola Marymount professor Ruben Martinez recounts his personal experiences with language tolerance and education in context to cultural identity and pride.