Glendale: Key to English success: parents

Glendale News Press
March 24 2004

Key to English success: parents

Not all parents agree with the English Language Development program,
and some take their children out of it. Officials say that’s not the
best decision for the child.

By Gary Moskowitz, News-Press

GLENDALE – Olga Sargsyan removed her son, Naenarek, from an English
Language Development program recently, saying she saw no progress in
his reading skills after several months in the program.

The Glendale Unified School District’s English Language Development
program is designed to help students whose primary language is not
English meet state proficiency standards in reading, writing and
speaking the English language.

Under state law, the district must provide the program. Parents can
remove their child from it at any time.

Sargsyan’s son was born in the United States, and speaks and writes
English, but his reading skills needed improvement, Sargsyan said.

After a few months in the English program, Sargsyan was unhappy
because she saw no improvement in Naenarek’s reading skills. She was
also unhappy with district officials, who she felt did not answer all
of her questions and did not adequately explain aspects of the

Since pulling her son from the program this fall, Sargsyan spends
about three hours a day reading and writing English with him, and she
thinks his work has improved.

Her dissatisfaction with the district’s English language program
prompted Sargsyan to keep her daughter, Anni, out of the program
altogether. She recently told school site officials that her daughter
speaks only English, even though all family members at home speak

“I can tell you [the program] was awful for my son,” Sargsyan said.
“I know if I put my daughter in ELD, it will be a problem for me
again and again. This might be a good program for kids who don’t know
any [English] words, but for kids who were born here, they learn
fast. I pulled him out, but I work with him every day, and he is now
in very good condition. His reading skills have improved.”

Mary Mason, principal at Keppel Elementary School and a former ELD
teacher, said that specific information on students’ academic
performance is confidential, so she could not discuss Naenarek’s

Mason did say teachers are able to make general academic assessments
about students who are removed from the ELD program early.

“It wouldn’t be unusual for a child like him to see his grades drop
after being removed from the program,” Mason said. “Since you have
dropped those ELD standards, the child is now seen as an English-only
child, and will not be given the extra support and time to learn
English and learn grade-level curriculum. The ELD students go through
a different grading process that actually separates their ELD grades
from the standard grades, which helps us and the parents see their
progress more clearly.

“I can only imagine how difficult it must be to be bombarded with a
new language all day. It takes a lot of mental energy for the student
to keep up.

“We know parents care about their children, and sometimes schools can
be an imposing place, with all of our acronyms and our procedures,”
Mason continued. “But parents are free to come in and talk to us
about their child’s progress. That’s what we’re here for. This is
their child, and we want them to know what’s going on and how we can
support their children.

“They have done research into the sink-or-swim method, where you get
thrown in and you either make it or you don’t,” Mason added.
“Research shows that ELD learning helps them access the curriculum as
it’s coming at them. They have found that kids with ELD support
performed better rather than with no support.”


The district’s Intercultural Education Department operates the
English Language Development program at district headquarters.

Immigrant parents who want to enroll their children at a Glendale
school are first asked to set up an appointment at the Welcome
Center, where students’ English speaking, writing and reading skills
are assessed through state-mandated testing.

Officials ask all students and parents a series of questions about
languages, including: “Which language did your son or daughter learn
when he or she first began to talk?” “What language does your son or
daughter most frequently use at home?” “What language do you use most
frequently to speak to your son or daughter?” and “Name the language
most often spoken by adults at home.”

Based on the answers to those questions and the results of student
language tests, the results are explained to parents, and students
are placed in the appropriate English language classes, officials

Students who remain in the English Language Development program must
eventually pass a state standardized test to be moved out of the
program and into standard English classes.

Parents like Sargsyan are not uncommon at district schools, but they
are the minority, said Joanna Junge, coordinator of the English
Language Development program and the district’s Welcome Center.

The Welcome Center serves English language learners through testing
and translation services, and also provides a counseling program for
refugees and families seeking asylum.

“We have to rely on parents to tell the truth when they fill out
surveys about their children,” Junge said. “If we don’t have accurate
information, we’re not focusing in on the right needs, and you’re
risking making things miserable for the child and the teacher.”

Some parents and students attach a stigma to the English Language
Development program, saying they feel like it’s a “label” they would
prefer to avoid, said Alice Petrossian, GUSD’s assistant
superintendent for educational services.

“Sometimes kids feel like they’re wearing a scarlet letter, but they
are getting information that is critical to their learning,”
Petrossian said. “They need to be fluent in English to succeed at all
other levels. And, if their primary language skills are lacking, they
will have additional problems with learning English and other
subjects like math.”


Local parents have the opportunity to attend regular meetings of each
school’s English Learner Advisory Committee and of the District
English Learner Advisory Committee.

District officials, administrators, educators and parents who
participate in the committees meet throughout the year to discuss
ways to improve the program and evaluate the district’s master plan
for providing education services to the immigrant student population.

The school site committees meet about four times each year, and the
district committee meets monthly at district headquarters. All
meetings are open to the public.

Valentine Oanessian, the district committee’s chairwoman,
Parent-Teacher Assn. president at Marshall Elementary School and a
member of Marshall’s school site council, was born in Iran and moved
to the United States in 1979. She speaks Armenian, English, Italian,
Persian and some Spanish. Her 8-year-old daughter, Athena, has been
enrolled in the English Language Development program at Marshall
Elementary School for two years.

“I have seen improvement with my daughter, and her English is quite
good,” Oanessian said. “I think her writing has improved the most.
She started writing poems a few weeks ago, and I was amazed. Now, she
wants to talk only in English, which is great, but I don’t want her
to lose her Armenian completely. Now she’s more fluent in English
than Armenian.”

Parent involvement with English learner students is crucial to
students’ success, Oanessian said.

“I think when it comes to parents, the best thing they can do is
first get the knowledge about the [ELD] program first, from the
roots, and then ask questions,” Oanessian said. “Mainly, I have
always said if you want your child to be successful, you have to be
there working with them. I want to know what my child is learning, so
I can help her more, and also teach other parents whose English
language is their barrier.

“We have to make sure we make it easy for them. If every parent tried
to show up, we would all learn so many things.”