Despite the challenges with charter schools, news of alleged sexual misconduct at Miramonte Elementary School and a looming budget deficit, there are bright spots within the Los Angeles Unified School District, as some schools are engaging in innovative academic planning.
One initiative in District 4 on the Westside that is slowly taking shape is the creation of a pipeline between language immersion programs at elementary schools in Mar Vista and Venice, Mark Twain Middle School and Venice High School.
LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer, who represents Mar Vista, Venice, Westchester and Del Rey in District 4, has been working with schools that have language immersion curriculums to create a nexus between area schools that he believes has the potential to be an “outstanding instructional model for public education.”
Grand View Boulevard and Broadway elementary schools have dual language immersion curriculums at their schools, and it is these two that Zimmer envisions as the apex of the language pipeline for the Venice/Mar Vista area.
Broadway’s Mandarin Chinese program is quickly outgrowing the elementary school due to its popularity, and the Spanish-English immersion initiative at Grand View is the district’s longest running language immersion program.
From these elementary schools, the plan is to have children who want to continue learning a foreign language transition to Mark Twain, the site of LAUSD’s only world languages magnet middle school.
After graduating from middle school, they would then attend Venice High, which has a foreign language magnet like Mark Twain.
Per district rule, the classes are taught half in Spanish and 50 percent in English.
On March 26, Grand View hosted teachers, parents and students from Mark Twain who talked to their elementary school counterparts about the middle school’s language immersion program. Through visual arts as well as anecdotes, they encouraged fifth grade students and their families who wanted to continue on a bilingual track to consider Mark Twain.
The two educators who teach the Spanish immersion curriculum, Chastity P/rez and Maria Alvarez, introduced students and parents at the middle school who discussed their experiences with the language initiative.
Christine Wilson, whose daughter Lauren came to Mark Twain from Grand View, said students who attend the middle school often see their friends and classmates there.
“We had a great group of parents at Grand View. We did a lot of really exciting things while we were here, and Lauren got to take that into middle school,” she said.
With the controversy surrounding colocations and the potential loss of teachers at other schools in his district, Zimmer said he is pleased to know that there is enthusiasm for the concept of a language pipeline and that parents as well as educators see its benefits.
“It is so gratifying to hear folks fully invested in the idea that they have chosen a program for K-12 and that they see the advantage to the outcome,” Zimmer told The Argonaut. “It’s built and it’s moving, and at this point, all (LAUSD) needs to do is support it.”
Alvarez, who teaches history and language arts, said students who matriculate to Mark Twain from Grand View seem well suited for a smooth transition to middle school.
“It makes my job a lot easier because they come very well prepared,” she said.
That is music to the ears of Grand View Principal Alfredo Ortiz.
“I think that speaks to our very high expectations here, and the kids know that, so they really do a lot of performing by a high level,” Ortiz said. “I also think the continuity of knowing that there’s a program beyond the fifth grade helps a lot.”
Zimmer has championed Grand View since he was elected in 2009, because he says he sees the value of what Ortiz and his staff are accomplishing.
“I’m very, very proud of what is happening at Grand View,” he said.
P/rez, who teaches science and mathematics, says she has seen a great deal of cohesion among the students in the language curriculum at her school.
“I really see this program as a family,” she said.
The teacher said one of her favorite moments as an educator came early this year when a student pulled her aside after an immersion class.
“He told me, ‘Teacher, I feel like you are more like a friend than a teacher,’” she told the audience.
Four days later, Mark Twain Principal Rex Patton, who also attended the Grand View assembly, held a similar event. The middle school invited Westminster, Grand View, Broadway, Couer d’Alene, Beethoven and Walgrove elementary schools to listen to a presentation by Patton, visit the classrooms and have lunch at the school.
They were also entertained by the school’s Bell Ringers, its orchestra and dance teams and a tumbling exhibition by seventh and eighth grade students.
“Mark Twain is on the move,” Patton told the audience. “Our vision is expanding every day.”
The principal also talked about the language immersion program and the visiting students were treated to a video conference with a school from Ontario, Canada and another from outside Madrid, Spain.
The middle school offers French, Spanish, Mandarin and Korean immersion programs.
The confluence of principals and faculty with similar ideas who believe that language can be a conduit to higher academic achievement as well as an asset in the 21st century is not lost on Zimmer.
“We really had to fight for the language program at Mark Twain,” he said. “I think parents are beginning to recognize (language immersion) as a very innovative and practical instructional model.”
Patton, a former principal at Coeur d’Alene, said a language connector between the Venice and Mar Vista schools has been a goal of his since former LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines asked him to take over Mark Twain two years ago. “It’s been my dream to have this chain of schools since I was at Coeur d’Alene,” he said. “We really want our language program to progress, and we’re very excited about it.”
Patton said the assembly had been in the planning stages for several months, with fifth graders set to graduate in less than three months. “We want to let the families of Venice and Mar Vista know that we are on the move and that we have a new world languages magnet,” he said.
Students in Mark Twain’s community school and the magnet program can choose electives in languages as well. The middle school recently received a $10,000 grant from Google for its video conference laboratory.
Zimmer said seeing how so many of the schools’ educators and families are in favor of the language pipeline speaks well of the principals and their faculties.
“The leaders of this program absolutely, positively own this project, and to me, that’s gold,” the school board member asserted. “Because this is about an instructional model, not land or governance. And that is what education is.”
Patton realizes that he is battling a perception problem regarding his school. While Mark Twain has made strides academically in recent years, it suffered from a reputation of a school without a strong academic performance and many neighborhood families opted to pursue educational opportunities elsewhere.
The administration at Mark Twain is looking at the language magnet as a possible vehicle to lure local students back and to convince them that the middle school is in the process of leaving its former reputation behind.
“Hopefully, we’ll go up on our state tests this year and that will begin to make a turnaround of perceptions at Mark Twain,” Patton said.
Zimmer hinted that other schools in District 4 could have the opportunity to create similar pipelines in the future if they can create initiatives that draw parents’ attention.
“Take Westminster, for example, with their garden and its environmental program. I fully believe that can take hold in the same way that (the language immersion connector plan) has,” he said.