The San Juan School District, under pressure from the U.S. Office for Civil Rights and a lawsuit filed by Eric Swenson on behalf of some Utah Navajos, is in the process of developing and implementing a bilingual/bicultural education program. This is no easy task, and it has been made more difficult by a number of factors.

First of all, our district serves students who are fluent to varying degrees in English, Spanish, Navajo and Ute, so all our planning must be done with four sets of students in mind.Halls Crossing School, where I teach, is a microcosm of the district in many ways. At the beginning of the year, a significant percentage of our students were of Mexican- or Native-American heritage.

Some spoke enough English to do well socially but not enough to succeed academically with all-English instruction. Some spoke primarily Navajo or only English but understood lessons given in English just fine when they were carefully taught the needed vocabulary before new concepts were introduced. Others spoke only English and were doing fine academically but were interested in learning their parents' native tongues. Some of our students of European ancestry also expressed interest in learning one or more of those languages.

People who hear about my job express amazement that one other teacher and I serve students on 13 grade levels. It seems to me that San Juan School District faces a challenge of similar proportions in attempting to plan a program to meet such a varied array of language needs.

Second, while I do not agree with Swenson and his associates, who seem to feel that our district has shown no concern for nor interest in the well-being of Native-American students, I do see some problems for which I feel we are or have been responsible.

Some district administrators did not take warnings given by the OCR and by Swenson seriously until far too late, so our current efforts have been pressured by unnecessarily tight deadlines.

Jerald Mikesell, our current superintendent, is staunchly supporting the new program and has made it clear that he wants the district not to merely comply with a set of regulations imposed on us from outside but to give our students the best bilingual/bicultural education possible.

Like many other district employees, I am delighted that we are now devoting considerable resources to this program; it's not yet all I would like it to be, but everything must start somewhere and I feel we're moving in the right direction.

A third source of difficulty in developing this program has been some of the actions of the State Office of Education's bilingual specialist. She was unable to show us any model program to pattern ours after. Fortunately, she has finally decided to help us become such a model instead of criticizing our efforts.

Having spent part of my two-week fall vacation writing and rewriting a plan for my school's program, only to have the state office team decide it had better just write one for each school, I wish the team had changed its approach a little sooner.

Fourth, restrictions imposed by the Swenson lawsuit have denied the district access to resources that could help us a great deal in designing the best possible program. Perhaps Swenson and his supporters in the San Juan project ought to leave the overhaul of San Juan School District's programs up to the Office of Civil Rights, which will pursue that effort regardless of the lawsuit.

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A fifth challenge San Juan School District faces in developing and implementing a bilingual/bicultural education program is resistance from some community members who are concerned about how it may affect the education of their own children.

I would like to point out that bilingualism, or even multilingualism, is commonly accepted as the "norm" in most countries.

In a lecture at BYU a few years ago, a noted professor from Asia asked the audience, "What do you call someone who speaks two languages?" and the instantaneous response was, "bilingual." His second question, however, stumped his listeners. "What do you call someone who speaks only one language?" Finally, someone ventured, "monolingual?" He said, "I suppose you could, but we usually just say American."

I hope both parents and the public will acknowledge the district's efforts as sincere and be willing to work within the system that has been set up for their input and develop a cooperative, rather than antagonistic, relationship with the school personnel involved in the new bilingual/bicultural program. That's the only way we can create the best possible schools for our children.

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