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Programs Thrive on Parental Support, Administrators Say

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Last year, the Inter-American Magnet School in Chicago received 800 applications for 60 openings, and the James F. Oyster Elementary School in Washington had a waiting list almost as large as its current student body of 305.

The drawing card for the two schools was "two-way" bilingual education.

Administrators in several states that have launched such programs say what makes them thrive is strong support from parents.

"Every single program I know of has lists of minority and majority parents waiting to get in," says David Dolson, assistant manager of the California education department's bilingual-education office. "Camping out in sleeping bags the night before" transfer applications are accepted "is not uncommon."

Paquita Holland, principal of the Oyster school, says it is not unusual for families to move in temporarily with friends or relatives so they can claim residency in the neighborhood and enroll their children at Oyster.

Last year, the school's community council raised $37,350 to supplement the $17,000 the school received from the District of Columbia school system. The funds paid for a music teacher and a science consultant as well as various supplies and special activities.

For Hispanic parents, Oyster's program is a way to help children forge a "positive link with the dominant culture here" while continuing to value their own, says Beatriz Otero, representative at large and former president of Oyster's community council.

While children glean the benefits of learning English, maintaining their native language helps them to "keep their ties at home," she adds.

English-speaking parents, on the other hand, fearful that their children will fall behind in subjects taught in Spanish, initially are more skeptical about enrolling their children in two-way programs, according to Mr. Dolson.

"Some are excited, but they have a lot of question marks," says Paul Wireman, principal of the Francis Scott Key Elementary School in Arlington, Va., which launched its "partial immersion" pilot program in 1986.

"It's a pretty scary thing to put your children in a program where they don't understand a thing the teacher is saying," adds Nancy Rhodes, a research associate for the Center for Applied Linguistics.

Once sold on the approach, however, English-speaking parents often play a pivotal role in promoting two-way programs, administrators say.

"English-proficient parents are becoming our strongest advocates." They are very effective because "they know the system," says Carmen Perez Hogan, chief of the New York education department's bureau of bilingual education.

She adds that pressure from parents helped sway the Buffalo school system to start a two-way program at Herman Badillo Elementary School so that graduates of an early-childhood center using the approach could continue their bilingual studies.

Carmelita Tucker, the parent of a child enrolled in the Key school's partial-immersion program and a member of its foreign-language advisory committee, says positive results help allay parents' fears.

"As long as the test scores are good and the kids do really well, parents like it," says Ms. Holland. "Like every parent, they look for good schools for their kids."

Viewing two-way programs in action may be one of the "best selling features" for parents, says a directory of bilingual-immersion programs published by the Center for Language Education and Research at the University of California at Los Angeles. It says parents should be warned, however, that students' performance may not exceed the norm--and may dip slightly below it--until they have been in the program for two or more years.--dg

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