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28287: Hermantin(News)True immersion: School looks to offer Creole (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Posted on Sun, Apr. 16, 2006

True immersion: School looks to offer Creole
In an effort to improve a C-ranked school in Little Haiti, Miami-Dade school officials are proposing Haitian Creole as part of a language immersion program.

A handful of Miami-Dade school kids are learning more than just the basics of French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and even Chinese in immersion-style classrooms -- they're also learning math, science and social studies in those languages.

Now, school district officials are proposing to do the same with a language that's as obvious as it is controversial at Morningside Elementary in Little Haiti: Creole. On Monday, school officials and parents will look at whether Spanish, French, Creole or a mix will form a new curriculum at Morningside, where the student body is mostly Haitian.

''The only school that has attempted to teach Creole as a dual language is Morningside,'' said Joanne Urrutia, a director for the district's bilingual education and world languages section.

Education experts applaud the effort, saying Haitian youth would acquire a mastery of their native tongue, which has traditionally been spoken more frequently than written. Children would learn about their heritage, and non-Haitian youth would gain another language.

But some question whether Morningside would be better served if kids learned a language spoken more widely throughout the world and also wonder whether the district has enough of the Creole-published textbooks needed for immersion.

Creole classes are given at Morningside and other South Florida schools, but the lessons aim to help Haitian youths learn English. If approved, the Creole instruction would phase in as a full-immersion course; both Haitian and non-Haitian kids would learn, say, language arts in Creole.

Some years ago, Morningside had a Creole dual-language program but that got nixed when the school became part of the district's ''zone'' improvement plan, Urrutia said. In Brooklyn, Public School 189 has a Creole language program and is credited for sending its students to distinguished public high schools in New York.

Experts cite P.S. 189 as an example of what can be achieved at Morningside.

''Certainly, the capacity exists to do that,'' said Julie Sugarman, a researcher at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Applied Linguistics. ``Students should have a strong background in their native language.''

One challenge Miami-Dade educators could face, however, is an apparent dearth of learning materials, industry insiders said.

''I would be curious to know if they have all the materials in place and the teachers have proper certification,'' said Faidherbe Boyer, an educator and head of a Creole translation center in Little Haiti.

As a new parent, Boyer has attended recent Morningside meetings to see how district officials plan to improve the curriculum. His company, CreoleTrans, does occasional translations for Miami-Dade public schools.

School officials say the district is adding textbooks and that teachers don't need certification to teach Creole or other languages.

''We have been working for the past 10 years in creating the material,'' Urrutia said. ``We would have supplementary materials at the elementary level, and, by the time [students] get to middle school, we will have a lot more.''

As Little Haiti and nearby areas have become more affluent over the years, non-Haitian parents have said they wish to put their kids in Morningside, but only if the district improves its C-ranking. Some wonder whether the district should include a language beyond French, Creole and Spanish.

''The language program could benefit well beyond our little neighborhood,'' said Michael Loveland, an area parent who wants to send his 2-year-old daughter to a nearby public school.

``I'd thought Mandarin would be more beneficial for business. . . . I don't know the beneficial aspects for French or Creole, for that matter.''