Over the Hill

Paso school’s bilingual kids are a model for a more peaceful world

My Dirkx grandparents immigrated to America from Holland in the 1880s. Neither of them learned English very well. Once, a neighbor girl wronged one of my then-young aunts. Later that day, the neighbor girl came to Gram’s door saying she wanted to apologize.

Gram was unfamiliar with the word “apologize.” “Apolyize!” she shouted, “I’ll apolyize you with a broom stick.” The lesson here is: If you can’t understand what the other guy is saying, things will probably get worse.

So I was pleased to read a nice story in Sunday’s Tribune about one of the elementary schools in my hometown, Paso Robles. That school teaches its pupils in two languages, English and Spanish.

I envy those pupils. I can only speak and understand English, and I wish I could speak a second language. If more of us Earth people could speak each others’ languages, we’d probably have fewer misunderstandings and wars.

The school I read about is Georgia Brown Elementary in the far northwestern corner of Paso Robles. It’s now teaching 608 boys and girls in both English and Spanish. Georgia Brown has also become the district’s biggest elementary school. Its story was on Sunday’s front page.

Georgia Brown uses a teaching system called “dual-language immersion.” Half of its pupils come from English-speaking families and half from Spanish-speaking families. For first, second and third grades, 90 percent of the teaching is in Spanish and 10 percent in English. For the fourth and fifth grades, each language gets 50 percent of the teaching time.

The curriculum starts heavily weighted toward Spanish because English is such a dominant language in schools.

The 90-10 ratio for the first three years apparently gets good results.

Pacheco Elementary School in San Luis Obispo is also a dual-language immersion school. It formerly used a 50-50 ratio for all five years, but then two years ago switched its first three years to the 90-10 ratio.

The Georgia Brown and Pacheco elementary schools are the only dual-language immersion schools in this county. They are trying to prepare our younger generations to live on a planet that seems to become smaller and smaller every year but has an ever-increasing population.

When I was born in 1930, the Earth’s population totaled only 2 billion. Wikipedia says it’s now 7.49 billion. By the year 2100 it may reach 11.2 billion.

We also don’t show any signs of learning to get along with one another other. It might help if more of us learned to speak other people’s languages.

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 805-238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.