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N.Texas School District Says Tri-lingualism Must Be New Norm

By Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 FM Reporter

Carrollton-Farmer's Branch/Dallas, TX – Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 Reporter: Ruth Feldman, in charge of Family Services and Parent Education for the Carrollton-Farmers Branch schools, says the demographic profile of some Dallas suburbs like hers isn?t what it used to be.

Ruth Feldman, Family Services, Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District: When you hear about a suburb, you think it?s not a minority. But they?re moving northward, and now it is 51% minority.

Zeeble: Feldman adds another misconception is that non-English speakers - children or parents - need only master English to succeed. Feldman: Now children have to be trilingual. English, Spanish, they speak at home, Asian language they speak at home. And the computer language. We?re forgetting the computer languages. We?re becoming bilingual. English and computer languages.

Zeeble: So Feldman and colleague Cheryl Sallard, a computer instructor in the district, launched their own program for adults. That way, parents wouldn?t be left behind as their children learned computerese. What started as a volunteer, free class for 10 mostly-immigrant parents three years ago has grown to nine classes with 150 adults. Sallard?s not surprised.

Cheryl Sallard, computer instructor, Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD: Because there?s a need. I?m not surprised in that way. Hopefully we?ll be able to meet the need in the future. We?re not going to provide everything in technology by any means, but we?re trying to provide a basic foundation. Keyboarding at three levels, and three levels of Microsoft Word. We think that?s a good foundation for a parent to not only help themselves but also to help work with their children.

Zeeble: Jesus Cardenas, a 36 year-old father of an eight year-old and twin five year-olds, wants as much computer education as he can get from the school district.

Jesus Cardenas, parent: If you learn computers, it?s like a way for you to go higher, try to make your living a little better. It?s very important.

Zeeble: Cardenas already uses a computer where he works in shipping and receiving at a nearby warehouse. Now enrolled in the school district?s intermediate night class, he volunteers another night to teach the beginner class he finished weeks ago.

Cardenas: So I can help others learn how to type and use the computer and helping other people like they helped me. It?s very important, ?cause we need to learn how to learn the computer, ?specially here in the U.S., especially for us that we?re Hispanic, we need to learn all this so we can help our kids.

Zeeble: Or at least, he says, keep up with them. Cardenas is the kind of parent these adult classes at Carrollton-Farmers Branch school district were designed for. The program?s co-creator, Ruth Feldman, says the classes cost $5,000 a year. Federal Title I money helps, along with volunteer teachers like Cardenas and Anne Gervasi, a DeVry Institute English teacher by day.

Anne Gervasi, volunteer computer teacher: When I heard this program was set up to increase skills of parents so they could get better jobs and do more with their lives and children, I said, ?Sure, sign me up.?

Zeeble: Ruth Feldman expects the number of adult students taking these computer classes to keep growing. To enroll, attendees must first take district-sponsored parenting classes. The six-week sessions focus on improving family communication and discipline. Feldman says the computer course is a kind of reward for attending the family program. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the school district?s adult computer program reflects a national trend, in which school districts are increasingly offering computer literacy classes. In fact, the Dallas school district has just launched its own program, not tied to family classes. Students haven?t met yet. For KERA 90.1, I?m Bill Zeeble.