Titi Mary Tran/Nguoi-Viet English
Don Luong’s son won’t enter kindergarten until the fall of 2019, but he’s already starting to think about his education.
He was one of a number of community members, educators and linguist professionals who attended a curriculum showcase recently at John Murdy Elementary School to learn about and offer feedback about the pilot Vietnamese-English dual-language program launched this fall at the school.
A foreign language program for elementary students once were found only in private schools. Now, both the Garden Grove and Westminster school districts have introduced Vietnamese-language programs for even the youngest students.
And Luong, for one, said he was impressed by what he saw.
“This is something I’ve been dreaming about, and actually seeing it is very exciting,” he said. “I have already been interested in enrolling my kid, and tonight might have been cemented it.”
Among the parents who attended the event were Loan Huynh and Linh Nguyen who have children in the program at Murdy. They brought their children to the program, and when asked to sing a Vietnamese alphabet song, they did so with confidence.
“I have a 5-year-old kid, and he didn’t want to speak Vietnamese,” Nguyen said. “But after being in the program, he now talks in Vietnamese. He seems to be happier and only reads what the teacher taught him.”
Murdy was chosen to pilot the Vietnamese-English immersion program because 72 percent of the school’s pupils are Vietnamese. The school also is located in the heart of Little Saigon. Because the program was initiated by the community in collaboration with the school board, the most important aspect of learning – language and content – can be tailored to the area’s cultural dynamics.
“I think it’s important throughout this process to get community input, attend to the community values, their concerns, and to be able to understand what those concerns are and what the community is looking for,” said Natalie Tran, director of the National Resources Center for Asian Languages. “Regardless of what you teach, to be an effective teacher you have to be understand the students, whether through languages or culture. Without the understanding, it is extremely difficult.”
“In my opinion, students should be your number one priority,” Tran continued.
What’s being taught in school and what instructions are given in the classroom concern Vietnamese parents. While being aware of the social, cultural and political dynamics of their service area, educators and program administrators also have to adhere to state standards when writing the curriculum for the Vietnamese dual-language program.
Luisa Rogers, the director of English learner program in the Garden Grove Unified School District, said, the program was formed through the work of a focus group of teachers, instructional coaches and Vietnamese administrators who helped us put together a resource and what was available in the community. Then a plan of action was put in place with the help of the National Resources Center for Asian Languages and aligned with state standards, she said.
“So when we know we have big themes such as friendships, family, food, farm animals, nature, friends, and neighborhoods, we start to see what books we have to help us fill that gap,” she said. A team also visited Seattle to research another Vietnamese program and view its materials.
Bringing the Vietnamese language to the public school system was a passion for former GGUSD school board member Bao Nguyen. Now, it is a sense of pride.
“I’m so passionate about this is because when I grew up I didn’t have this,” he said. “This is one way to make sure our language is in the mainstream so the kids are not ashamed of Vietnamese when they learn it.”