Imagine Loudoun County high school student John Smith, who speaks only English, moving to El Salvador and taking driver's education. The other students and teacher in his classroom speak only Spanish.
Then picture that same student driving through the streets of El Salvador. Smith doesn't have his license yet, but he is driving anyway.
That's what it has been like for driver's education students enrolled in Loudoun's English as a Second Language (ESL) program, said Park View High School teacher Kathleen Dugger.
Park View has implemented a pilot program to solve the language barrier. Some ESL students take physical education both semesters of their freshmen year. They wait until their sophomore or junior year to take health one semester and driver's education the other. Instead of an eight-week driver's education class that most students receive, the ESL students learn it over an entire semester.
"You have enough time for the students to learn what they need to know," said Dugger, who has been teaching driver's education, health and physical education in Loudoun for 36 years. "The real payoff is the public in general, because these kids understand driver's ed."
Shelley Jollimore, a Park View ESL teacher, said some Loudoun students are not legal immigrants and cannot get a driver's license. "They are on the roads anyway. They're picking up brothers and sisters or getting a job to pay the bills," she said. "We're not saying it's a good thing, but it's better if they know what they are doing out there, what the signs mean and what the laws are."
DUGGER WAS an advocate of the ESL health and driver's education concept when Park View set it up as a pilot program last year. "There was a need and I was the one who started pushing for it, because that was my job," she said. "I find it personally satisfying. They can understand anything our regular ed students can if it is presented at a pace that they can apply.
"It gives them what they need without slowing down for everyone else," she said.
The number of Park View students enrolled in the ESL program rose from 79 in 2000 to 161 this year. About 30 of them are enrolled in the driver's education and health class.
Park View Principal Anne Brooks said the advantage to offering physical education during the freshmen year is that the ESL students have an opportunity to learn to speak and read English before taking the other two subjects. "To have an informal opportunity to learn the language and culture is very effective," she said.
Jollimore said placing them with English-speaking students pulls them out of their "own little social cliques" to make new friends.
Dugger said some Park View students speak English and a second language and help with interpretation. She also shows physical education activities by example. "Most of them are skilled athletically," she said. "Like any teenager, they pick up physical skills easily."
BROOKS DESCRIBED the pilot project as a success. Jollimore agreed.
"Some of our students come from countries with very limited educational opportunities," Jollimore said. "I can think of two kids right now that have less than a third grade education."
Because they have the opportunity to learn at a slower pace and to learn study skills, they are at the top of their class now, she said.
"It makes them feel successful," she said. "And that's what it's about, them being successful."