Bilingual teacher gets top honors in state
Big things are coming from a little portable classroom at Truckee Elementary School.
Earlier this month, teacher Esther Bousquet was selected out of 7,000 of her peers statewide to receive the California Association of Bilingual Education’s WIT (wisdom, inspiration and tenacity) Teacher of the Year Award.
“It really was an honor to receive it; it gave some validity to what I do,” Bousquet said while sitting in a child-sized chair in her classroom last week.
Bousquet teaches second-grade bilingual education to Truckee Elementary students who speak Spanish as a first language.
The award came from the California Association of Bilingual Educators (CABE), an organization for professional development in second language education. Top researchers in the field of bilingual education selected Bousquet for one of the association’s top honors.
“The award tells me that I’m right on with my philosophy and the research I’m following,” said Bousquet, a Latina and native English speaker. “I see it work. Most of the people who don’t get it are not educators or they’re not bilingual themselves.”
Bilingual education has met its share of controversy in school districts across the nation. Some educators and administrators believe that all instruction should be taught in English, Bousquet said.
In 1998, the passage of Proposition 227 in California required almost all public school education be conducted in English, unless parents sign a waiver. Truckee Elementary’s wavered bilingual program is offered for kindergarten through third grade, and a group of Truckee parents has been advocating to continue the program through fifth grade.
“Parents who don’t speak English realize that if their child doesn’t understand, they won’t be getting a quality education. They understand the value of their children being able to understand the material,” Bousquet said.
In Bousquet’s bilingual classroom 60 – 70 percent of the material is presented in English, and she explains more complex concepts in Spanish. She said learning new concepts in the students’ native language creates a solid foundation in academics.
“Once they have the information in their own language, then they can connect,” she said.
In an English immersion classroom a program in which students learn nearly all material in English students show more advanced levels in the beginning of their education than in bilingual education, Bousquet said; however, she said the essential elements of education can be lost on the students who don’t speak English as a first language.
Overcoming small-town struggles
TTUSD director of curriculum Ruta Krusa, who was one of many who recommended Bousquet for the accolade, had plenty to say about Bousquet’s merits.
“She’s a real advocate for English learners,” Krusa said. “She is extremely knowledgeable in theory and practice of bilingual education. She really, totally feels for the students.”
Bousquet’s advocacy doesn’t stop in her classroom, Krusa said. She translates memos and parent-teacher meetings for parents who don’t speak English. She has also been a voice for increased bilingual education at Truckee Elementary.
“It’s one thing to be a bilingual teacher in a district in a large area, where there are universities to pick up strategies and you have a lot of support,” Krusa said. “But, it’s another thing to be a bilingual teacher in a place like Truckee. We always have to go to Sacramento or farther for enrichment. You don’t have the support like you do in a large school district.”
In 1992 Bousquet was hired as the bilingual resource teacher at Kings Beach Elementary School. At Kings Beach Elementary she worked to bridge the gap between non-bilingual staff and English learners.
Approximately seven years ago, she began teaching third grade bilingual education to Spanish speakers at Truckee Elementary. The last two years she has taught second-grade bilingual education.
In her 17 years as an educator of English learners, Bousquet sees her students as the most significant evidence of her success in the classroom.
“I predict good things for my students,” Bousquet said. “I see my students doing a great job maintaining academics at grade level. What an asset to leave school and be bilingual and bi-literate.”