Hispanic leaders call for bilingual education in county schools

April 11, 1993|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

Leaders of Harford County's small but rapidly growing Hispanic population want bilingual education in county schools.

"Harford has one of the fastest-growing populations of Hispanics in the state," said Robert D. Brown, spokesman for the Harford County Hispanic Advisory Committee.

"The Spanish language is the primary language of Hispanics. That is the language children become proficient in at home," he told the school board Monday night.

"We need bilingual education in the elementary schools to facilitate

learning and help Hispanic children retain their culture and language."

Classes to teach non-English-speaking students are most needed in Edgewood and Aberdeen, where many Hispanic families live, he said.

Mr. Brown said 2,851 Hispanics live in Harford, 63 percent more than in 1990, according to U.S. Census figures. By the year 2000, 5,000 more Hispanics may call Harford home, Mr. Brown said. As of September, the 36,000-student public school system included about 500 Hispanic children.

Mr. Brown also noted that the county has few Hispanic teachers, and he said that Hispanics want representation on the school board and on the nominating caucus that recommends board members for selection. None of the seven school board members is Hispanic.

George Lisby, a school board member, said he would be happy to meet with the Hispanic representatives. But, he said, before going ahead with bilingual education, Harford should see how well it works in other counties.

Juan de Dios Lopez, a member of the Hispanic committee, said Harford's growing Hispanic population includes members of military families stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), who may retire here.

He said some Hispanic professionals, particularly engineers, are recruited from other parts of the country, including Puerto Rico, to work at APG.

Hispanic families also are moving to Harford from the Washington area, looking for a more rural community, he said.

Mr. Lopez is the program manager for HEP, the Hispanic Employment Program, part of the Equal Employment Opportunity Office at APG.

"Hispanics are moving here for the same reason other people are moving here. It's a good place to bring up kids," said Iriam Rivera, a member of the committee and human relations coordinator for Harford.

County Hispanics first began meeting as a group in February, about the same time they were invited to a town hall meeting by County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, Ms. Rivera said.

Hispanics in Harford are mostly middle-class and most speak English fluently, said Ms. Rivera. As more Hispanics move here, the chances are that some will not be fluent in English, and their children will need help.

"We want to make this a peaceful transition, as the Hispanic population grows and we become more visible," she said. "And one way to do that is to educate the people of Harford County about the cultural diversity Hispanic people will add."

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