AIMS scores shot up this year at Emerson Elementary School in Mesa, and principal Mark Bankhead gives some of the credit to a group of students too old to take the test.
Each morning four days a week, about 50 Emerson parents and grandparents gather on campus to learn English in a program started seven years ago by teacher Lucie Monell. Most who attend the adult classes are immigrants from Mexico who want to be able to help their children with their homework — which by law in Arizona must be in English.
"They are so motivated by their children," Monell said.
At Emerson, where 59 percent of students are Hispanic and 45 percent are classified as English learners, the program has paid off. Scores released Tuesday for Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards show the number of Emerson third-graders who passed the test jumped 13 percentage points in writing to 84 percent, 3 percentage points in reading to 74 percent and 17 percentage points in math to 80 percent. Emerson fifth-graders also made gains across the board.
"Finally, since last year, we are achieving the goals we've been looking for," said Monell, who speaks French, Spanish and English and has a doctorate in phonics and language development from the University of Loyola in France.
Monell said she developed the curriculum herself and sees many parents becoming conversational in English within 18 months in her class. "It's been my baby," she said.
On Wednesday morning, 29 adults in Monell's beginning class filled every desk in the room except one. Monell passed back the parents' homework, clarified misunderstandings about the verb "to be" and listened as the class chanted English conjugations.
Monell repeats much of the instruction in Spanish.
Parents in the program said they wish their children could be taught the same way so as to learn English and Spanish equally well. An English immersion law that Arizona voters passed in 2000, requires that all students be taught in English only.