When speaking to a student at Grand View Boulevard Elementary School in Mar Vista, do not discount the possibility that the child may have the ability to respond in two languages instead of one.
Whether they are native English speakers or not, the children who attend the K-5 school have quickly embraced the advantages of a bilingual lifestyle and they, along with their parents, teachers and alumni of the school recently commemorated 20 years of Spanish immersion education June 11.
The school playground was the backdrop for traditional Mexican folklòrico dances by some kindergarten students, a Hawaiian number, a sea of colorful costumes and decorations. Music by bilingual children’s singer and author José Luis Orozco provided the soundtrack to the festive environment.
“This really was a great chance to showcase our school,” said Sarah Auerswald, who has a son in the second grade at Grand View and is the president of the school’s Parent-Teachers Association. “A lot of people were really impressed with our children’s performances.”
Grand View Boulevard Principal Alfredo Ortiz said the hundreds of people who came to take part in the celebration was a testament to the dual language immersion’s success as well as the community’s affection for the school.
“I think the turnout exceeded all of our expectations,” he said. “This is the culmination of what can happen when parents and teachers work together.”
Fourth grade teacher Suzanne Hoffman does not teach the Spanish immersion curriculum, but said she has seen how the program has changed her students.
“I think it’s great. We’re really proud of it,” said Hoffman, who was invited to the stage by Orozco to take part in an impromptu dance. “It’s an amazing thing to have students learning to read and write in both languages.”
The Spanish language program at Grand View has been in existence longer than any 90-10 language initiative in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Under the initiative, children learn in Spanish 90 percent of the time in kindergarten, and in each successive year the ratio drops 10 percent until the fifth grade, when students are taught in both languages 50 percent of the time.
LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer, who represents Mar Vista, has spoken very highly of the school and the immersion program.
“Grand View now boasts a solid program for the students in the dual language program, although the program may have experienced a few bumps along the way,” said an LAUSD spokeswoman. “Grand View has a dedicated dual language staff, a very supportive administrative staff, and a very enthusiastic and involved parent group.”
The union between parents and faculty that Ortiz mentioned seemed to be especially strong during the first five months of the year, after LAUSD notified Grand View and two other Mar Vista schools that they may soon have to share their campus with another school.
Colocation is where a charter school shares the same school site as a neighborhood school. Charter schools, which are publicly funded, independently run institutions, are legally allowed to petition school districts for available classroom space under Proposition 39.
Proposition 39 is an education initiative approved by the electorate in 2000. It mandates that charter operators have the right to colocate with traditional schools and can ask to use classrooms that are underutilized or vacant.
Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF) had petitioned LAUSD for six classrooms at Grand View, including a room that is used for student intervention. The charter school rejected the district’s offer last month, which Ortiz said was a relief.
Auerswald, whose older son attends a charter middle school, said a colocation could have jeopardized the future of the Spanish program.
“If (the charter) had taken away our rooms, there would have been no way to expand,” she said.
Hoffman, who is also the intervention coordinator, echoed Auerswald’s sentiments on how having another school on campus could have been a detriment to the school’s progress. Like the immersion program, the classroom used for student intervention was also threatened, she said.
“If they had taken away the things that we provide for these kids, like intervention rooms and other classrooms, a lot of what we’re doing here could have been threatened,” the teacher said.
Three charter schools that applied to LAUSD for classrooms turned down offers and two existing charters were given more space.
Ortiz said some indicators of the school’s success are that Zimmer has spoken highly of Grand View in public settings and the turnout for the anniversary event. Those two things, along with a rise in the school’s Academic Performance Index, show that he is involved in a success story in the making, he said.
“Part of the response here is that our scores have gone up and there is excitement among our parents, the administration and in the community,” the principal said. “People want to be part of a success story, and I don’t think they would be here if we haven’t shown promise.”
The K-5 school’s API has increased steadily over the last three years and Ortiz said he is confident that it will hit or surpass its benchmarks this year.
Auerswald sees the dual language initiative as a bridge to new worlds for all of the students. “The beauty of the (dual immersion curriculum) is that it maintains the home language for Spanish-speaking students as well as teaching academic English to our students,” she noted.
Ortiz said his school is on the move and he is eager to show off his dual language initiative to prospective parents and the rest of the community.
“Come next year, we’re going to show everybody that we can compete with the other community schools,” he said. “We have shown that our school can help anyone that walks through our doors, and we have shown how successful our dual language program can be.”