Longform

Nada Chance

Page 7 of 7

After two years in a bilingual system, Gisela's English skills are more advanced than her brothers'. But she's facing the same uncertain future as Martín. It likely will be impossible for her to go to college. At least she has a little more time -- three more years -- to better her English, to hope that her situation will change.

This is her first year at Carl Hayden and she wants to enroll in Army ROTC. She says she likes the uniforms and thinks it would improve her leadership skills for when she becomes a teacher. She'll sign up next year for sure, she says.

Maria says Gisela is the most artistic of the three siblings. Unlike her brothers, she's more interested in language and literature than numbers and math.

Gisela likes to read National Geographic magazine because it adds to her list of places she'd like to travel to someday. Places like Africa, India and Europe.

She's a fan of Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Beatles, but she's also consumed with Shakira, the Latin American pop sensation. And she dresses as hip as her secondhand clothes will allow -- navy hip-hugger pants and white platform shoes. Her hair, pulled back in a ponytail, cascades down her back.

If Proposition 203 passes, Gisela will soon face an all-English classroom. But she seems to have the confidence to handle it and the foundation of two years in bilingual ed.

She's written a poem, in English, that's posted on the classroom bulletin board.

Gisela --
Nice, Sad and Short
Daughter of Guadalupe and Martín
Lover of books, drawings and music
Who feels happy when its Christmas
Who feels sad when I'm crying
Who feels excited on my birthday
Who fears big dogs, spiders
and scary movie

Who would like to graduated
to the high school

Who would like to go
to Mexico

Who would like to go
to Disneyland

-- Native of Irapuato, Guanajuato


Many bilingual proponents agree that bilingual education needs reform. They say the program has no set universal standards, that bilingual programs differ from school to school, district to district. They complain that there have never been enough truly certified bilingual teachers, and that administrators disagree on the methods of implementation.

"Thirty years is too long for an experiment," Garcia-Dugan says.

She thinks students should learn to speak English as soon as possible, not in the three years it takes in the best-case bilingual program. The Arizona Department of Education reports that it takes an average of 5.2 years for kids in the state to transition into mainstream classes.

Martín will never make it to that point. After two years, he is unable to speak fluently. If anything, Martín will walk away with a better understanding of American culture and enough English skills to get him change for a dollar. Not enough to accomplish his dreams.

Would a one-year English immersion course have somehow polished Martín's tarnished future? Had he become fluent through immersion, would he find a job that's better than day labor? Would he be able to save money for a student visa, college tuition, and be able to pass the entrance exams?

For Martín, the questions will remain unanswered. For the kids after him, who are like him, the answers will depend on how a system of immersion would play out in this state.

Some experts say it could be 10 years before we know for sure.

Bilingual proponents also believe that dropout rates would continue to climb under immersion, even though they have remained high throughout three decades of bilingual education.

The Arizona Department of Education reports that 18 percent -- 13,500 of the state's 77,000 Latino high school students -- dropped out in the 1998-1999 school year. In the Phoenix Union High School District, Latino dropout rates hover at 20 percent.

If Martín can look forward to anything in his future, it's graduation next year. He'll likely walk the runway, shake hands with the principal and take home a diploma to hang on the wall, beneath the shrine, in the family's trailer.

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Caleb Correa