San Mateo Adult School
If you visit Leticia Navarro’s fourth/fifth grade class in the Fiesta Gardens Spanish/English Immersion School in San Mateo the first thing you may notice is how quickly the children volunteer answers. Spanish and English flow mingled through lessons as students use whichever language they have to complete tasks. It doesn’t matter if the moment’s lesson is in Spanish or English, learning in either language is equally respected at this school.
"That's one of the things I learned from my experience as a student in ESL classes at the Adult School," Leticia notes. "Make a comfortable atmosphere where the students can be free to use the language they have to communicate. When I first came to the United States I was so afraid to say anything or go anywhere. Then I came to the San Mateo Adult School and my life in the United States changed."
Encouraged by her family and by her father’s experience, one of Leticia’s first acts on U.S. soil was to enroll in San Mateo Adult School so she could take English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. Some years earlier, her father had come to the U.S. and had been part of the 1986 Amnesty program. English classes at San Mateo Adult School had helped him qualify for amnesty. After finishing high school in Mexico, Leticia came to the United States in 1989. She was impressed by the methods used to teach the classes, and how students were consistently encouraged to use the English they had learned. “The thing I remember most about my first class with Tim Doyle is that we went on field trips into the community. We learned how to take public transportation by riding on the bus and the train. I had never gone anywhere in the United States by myself without my father or brother. After we took a school trip to San Francisco, some friends that I had met in the class and I went by ourselves on the weekend to San Francisco. I felt so independent."
Leticia remembers another inspirational teacher, Maria Roddy. As part of her Advanced Low ESL class Maria gave Leticia, and the other students, short critical thinking passages from famous writers. This inspired Leticia to struggle through reading her first book in English, Les Miserables.
Success in Adult Basic Education classes gave Leticia the confidence she needed to move on to community college. She balanced school, a job, and a little romance. She married a man, who like herself, chose to go to a four-year college and become a teacher.
Leticia is now a pillar at the Fiesta Gardens School where parents, administrators and kids refer to her as "the wonderful Ms. Navarro" She has been at the school for nine years spending countless hours helping native Spanish and English speaking children to overcome the struggles of acquiring a second language.
Her most recent challenge has been the same as that of all other public education teachers, responding to the increasing pressure of standardized testing. Students at bilingual schools have to test in two languages, and their scores are often lower in the earlier grades. By the sixth and seventh year of bilingual education scores begin to rise. Part of Leticia’s job is to reassure anxious parents that their children are learning at an appropriate pace and will eventually come out with higher cognitive abilities than their single language peers.
Leticia sees the classroom as a place of transformation where students can learn and grow. Her path to success began at San Mateo Adult School where she says she gained a foundation in a new language and new culture and at the same time learned to apply new and innovative approaches to her own education and teaching.