La Verne Magazine
"The Latino Community in La Verne: Struggle, Progress
Diversity in the Classroom
by Johnny Hagerman
photography by Echelle Avelar
Combining their creative ideas, second graders Jacie Bowen and Jannet
Guzman work together to finish a drawing exercise. They are just two out
of 20 students attending Luisa Lopez's bilingual education class at Roynon
Elementary School in La Verne. The classroom is a mix of English speaking
students and bilingual students, which Lopez says "makes for a learning
environment that is diverse in its dynamics."
What Luisa Lopez's bilingual second grade class does for appreciating
language and culture is what Shakespeare did for appreciating great literature.
This is not just a class that provides knowledge in English and Spanish,
but one that utilizes language as a tool.
This classroom is not like many; these children have certain advantages
over the grown-ups they so readily look up to. They learn weekday lessons
in addition to drawing, writing, adding and subtracting that will provide
a foundation for survival in a multicultural world when they graduate into
These students are learning how to appreciate each other on a level
that makes the word "tolerance" seem unnecessary. They are assembled
to learn about one another through similarities and common ground as a means
for appreciating the unique characteristics that make them different. The
learning strategy these students follow is known as "cooperative learning."
Dr. Anita Flemington, vice principal of Roynon Elementary School in
La Verne, practices cooperative learning to make the instruction of bilingual
education more effective and successful. "I like to think of La Verne
as a microcosm of society," says Dr. Flemington. "I think La
Verne represents what the United States is built up of culturally."
Dr. Flemington and Lopez work together in teaching cooperative learning
and bilingual education techniques to other teachers. On Feb. 26, both attended
and spoke at the 22nd annual CABE (California Association for Bilingual
Education) Conference. The conference combined workshops, exhibits, and
career fairs for teachers throughout California who teach bilingual education.
Flemington and Lopez were featured, along with chancellors and deans from
the nation's top universities.
Bilingual education is an integral part of the cooperative learning
process because students who are limited in their English proficiency are
sitting alongside children who are in varying degrees bilingual, as well
as children who are only English speakers.
In this sense, Dr. Flemington's perception of La Verne being a microcosm
of society seems to be accurate, at least within the walls of Mrs. Lopez's
second grade classroom. A floating mix of bilingual and fluently English
speaking students makes for a learning environment that is diverse in its
According to Dr. Flemington and Lopez, diversity is the defining element
that makes their program successful. For the limited English proficient
student, there is a unique challenge to learn all of the fundamentals of
language, math and science while doing so in a language that is not comfortable
Lopez makes a comparison. "Imagine you are living in China and
have no idea how to speak the language and know nothing of the customs.
You are enrolled in a school to learn how to fix a car. You know nothing
about cars, and the instruction is completely in Japanese. The challenge
is the same for these students."
Dr. Flemington believes that the integration of limited English proficiency
students and fluent English students makes the language and cultural transition
Using their quiet time constructively, Ashlee Woodland and Daniel Hayes
share a good book. Luisa Lopez's Roynon Elementary English fluent students
have the unique opportunity to be in a learning environment that teaches
all the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic in both English and Spanish.
Lopez has been teaching bilingual education at Roynon Elementary School
for six years. A Claremont Graduate School alumna with extensive courses
and certification in cooperative learning, she sets the foundation for her
second grade classroom to gain a unique learning atmosphere.
Combining a structured and fulfilling curriculum for 20 students is
a difficult chore in itself. But Lopez gets invaluable help from volunteer
parents, as well as help from students of the University of La Verne who
are in varying capacities studying for careers in education. Roynon participates
in a partnership with the Education Department at ULV where students from
the University are able to observe the classroom atmosphere and do hands-on
work with the children.
The added help from parents, aides and college students helps Lopez
manage a classroom of ambitious children who, in this unique setting, are
in a constant transition in their learning.
The room itself is eclectic in style and bright in its presentation.
Chaos is an appropriate way to describe the collage of shapes and colors
that wallpaper the room. Upon first glance, it would appear that the forest
of words and crafts holds no significance to each other, as if someone had
arbitrarily pinned pieces of art and crayon written prose to the walls with
no rhyme or reason.
But if one looks closer, the mismatched colors and works of art all
come together in an intricate design for a specific purpose. All of the
projects and designs on the walls are products of the second graders' imaginations.
All of the children are heavily influenced by the cooperative learning philosophies.
Quilted on the walls of the cupboards in the back of the room are Venn
diagrams, an exercise in helping students understand the differences between
each other while putting a strong focus on similarities. The wall adjacent
to the cupboards has a section devoted to a self esteem building exercise.
"In this exercise, students get a turn to prepare pictures and
things about themselves, their favorite colors, favorite foods, etc., and
they give a little presentation. Students get to ask them questions,"
says Lopez, as she points to the pictures that have been placed carefully
of a little girl and her family. The pictures surround a brief biography
of the little girl. "It's a tremendous confidence building exercise."
These exercises are particularly important for the bilingual students
who are not as proficient as the rest of the students in English. The challenge
to learn new academics, along with the added burden of doing so in a foreign
language can take its toll on the students' confidence. For this reason,
community, self esteem and tolerance building activities are crucial in
this class and are made priority.
Ultimately, the goal in bilingual education at Roynon is to instill
academic proficiency, to learn English and to build positive self esteem.
In order to effectively prepare the students for what lies ahead in
the world, the fundamentals of tolerance have an equal weight as learning
to spell. "Instead of talking about what our differences are,"says
Dr. Flemington, "we talk about our similarities and what brings us
together. Tolerance is our emphasis."
Activities that force students to interact are a method Lopez uses to
reinforce this idea. Students participate in a variety of "active listening"
exercises, in which the student listens to another student carefully and,
in return, reiterates what was just said.
"While building listening skills, the students bond with each other
when they are encouraged to take an active interest in what the other has
to say," says Lopez.
Living in the multicultural society that inhabits La Verne, the need
for education that appreciates differences and bonds similarities is a lesson
as vital as math and science. It is an educational vision that celebrates
diversity instead of crushing it.
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