Americanized to their toes, 30 Glencarlin Elementary School students--Hispanic, Vietnamese, Cambodian, black, white--lined up to sing, with varying uncertainty, a pep-rally arrangement of "God Bless America." Clap, clap, clap. "United States, that's for me! North, South, East, West . . . ."
At least 20 of the students wore sneakers.
When Arlington Superintendent Charles E. Nunley stepped in to invite a group of Vietnamese parents to a special program, there was silence until Georgetown University linguist Nguyen Ngoc Bich translated. Then came a chorus of "Yeahs!"
Americanization was the theme of yesterday's Multicultural Conference on Parent Participation in Arlington Schools, which drew 250 educators and parents of a half-dozen nationalities to discuss the problems of children who do not speak English.
"We want our children to compete and be completely fluent in an English-speaking environment," said Maria Heeter, "and maintain our cultural heritage, that which makes us what we are."
Despite the turnout, only a small percentage of non-English-speaking parents was represented. As of the end of January, there were nearly 2,000 elementary and high school students in Arlington (out of a total of 14,500 students) who speak so little English they could not yet attend mainstream classes.
Workshops were held in five languages--English, Spanish, Lao, Vietnamese and Khmer. (A French-speaking Central African father was left out because there was no session in French.) The meetings focused on strategies for involving students and their parents in the educational process. Although the languages were different, the message was the same: We must help our children to help themselves.
"Seven words," Nunley told the group. "People tend to fulfil other people's expectations."
In the cafeteria, a large group of Hispanic parents stared at a visual aid: a chart with a large black triangle connecting the words "nin o," "padres" and "maestro" (child, parents, teacher). A leaflet in Spanish suggested that parents encourage their children to get library cards and use them to borrow English books, magazines, even records. "Saber que programas de TV miran sus hijos," the material advised (Know what TV programs your children are watching.)
And finally one mother, a former Cambodian high school teacher who escaped to the United States with her five children after her husband and two other children were killed, begged the teachers to "be patient with our Cambodian children."
Folding her hands at her chin, Chan Trea said, "Our future is in our children."