Place for Elian Gonzalez in Queen Anne's schools

The Education Beat

Prepared: The Eastern Shore system, accustomed to educating children whose first language is Spanish because of many migrant workers there, would welcome the Cuban boy.

May 03, 2000|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

A FEW DAYS AGO, Queen Anne's County schools Superintendent Bernard J. Sadusky received an e-mail from a friend. "We have an illegal alien in the county," it read.

Sadusky laughed. Elian Gonzalez, the world's most famous 6-year-old, might or might not be legal. The courts and Janet Reno will be the judge of that.

But it makes no difference to Queen Anne's County schools. It's a stroke of egalitarian genius and a source of considerable stress that American public schools take on every child, legal or illegal. Schools along the Rio Grande and in Southern California are strained to the limit with children whose Hispanic parents are illegal residents of the United States.

"We haven't had any overtures yet about Elian, but we would welcome him and educate him," says Sadusky.

Elian, as everyone with eyes and ears knows, is staying with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, in a compound near Queenstown variously described as a "luxurious homestead" and a "pastoral estate." It's just on the Queen Anne's County side of the Wye River, which puts Elian in the vast district served by Centreville Elementary School, from which the boy is technically truant.

The bus ride would be about a half-hour, but Marilyn Carey, the Centreville principal, says Elian would make a "natural friend" with 6-year-old Camilla Smigo, a Wye River neighbor who would share the boy's bus. "He's such a darling little boy," says Carey. "We'd love to have him."

A boy whose first language is Spanish wouldn't be out of place in an Eastern Shore district accustomed to educating the children of migrants and others working on farms and in Delmarva poultry plants.

A 1997 survey found 40,000 Hispanics among the 500,000 Delmarva residents, an estimated 9,000 illegal. Sadusky says a dozen languages are spoken in his district of about 7,000 students.

Elian would be enrolled in a federally financed English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program run jointly by Queen Anne's and two neighboring systems. Depending on a thorough evaluation, he would probably spend part of the day in one-on-one instruction with a bilingual tutor and part in a class of 18 to 20 kindergartners.

This isn't likely to happen. Elian is traveling with his former Cuban kindergarten teacher and has been schooled throughout his five-month stay in the United States, according to news reports. "If they stay at Wye for any length of time, they're likely to put Elian on home-school status," Sadusky predicts.

A prolonged stay on the Wye River, even with occasional exposure to U.S. media, is likely to make Elian bilingual. This is more than can be said for the vast majority of tongue-tied U.S. children of Elian's age.

Sadusky says the county's newest kindergartner has been a major topic of conversation in Queen Anne's school circles.

Carey, who manages a crowded primary school serving children in pre-kindergarten through the second grade, says it would be "wonderful" to educate Elian, but she shivers at the thought of the media horde in his wake. "I've got four classes in relocatables and 23 school buses," she says. "I don't know where we'd put the TV trucks."

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