*Special Note: Since 2012 there have been district level leadership changes in the Milwaukee Public Schools and several teacher powered schools have closed or transitioned back to a traditional leadership structure. ALAS remains open and continues to serve their community, but is no longer teacher powered.
The Maintenance Heritage Language Program ALAS “Cooperative” teacher-members selected for use at the bilingual ALAS High School is an innovative alternative to immersion or dual language programs. At ALAS, where most students’ first language is Spanish, academic disciplines are taught almost simultaneously in English and Spanish. The students are provided the opportunity to learn in their native Spanish while also being challenged to learn English at their own pace. Homework and papers are accepted in both English and Spanish depending on which language will help the student better understand the material. The combination allows students to acquire both academic English and academic Spanish at the same time that they are mastering academic subjects. To accomplish this, all teachers at ALAS must be bilingual. With the language barrier overcome, ALAS senses that parents more readily participate in school activities and are actively involved in their child’s education. Parents are comfortable that their children’s heritage is being appreciated.
About Linda Peters
Linda Peters, English teacher and former Lead Teacher of the ALAS cooperative, has a long history teaching in public schools. She taught for ten years at South Division High School in Milwaukee. Before that, Linda spent 8 years in Central Office in the Human Relations department as a Human Relations coordinator for a group of schools across Milwaukee. While teaching at South Division, Linda was a part of a group of teachers that began discussing the possibility of developing ALAS High School. Linda has a B.S. from University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and teaching licenses in both English and Spanish with a bilingual certification. She also earned an M.S. in curriculum and instruction from UW-Milwaukee. Linda spent five years in Mexico studying the culture and language. When she is not teaching, she loves to read and spend time with her grandchildren.
Though the teachers in the ALAS “cooperative” shared decision-making power, Linda, as the lead teacher, had the “signing power” because “the buck stops somewhere in all places.” The cooperative began with 6 members and expanded to 18 teachers serving a high school of 250 students before changing back to a traditional structure.
Eliezer was born in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico and moved to the United States when he was eleven years old with his mother and three older siblings. Reading, writing, and speaking no English, he entered the 5th grade in Waukegan, Illinois where he was in a bilingual program. The lack of discipline for students surprised and concerned Eliezer, but encouraged him to make himself stand out in a positive way. In the 6th grade, Eliezer moved to Milwaukee where he attended the Lincoln Center of the Arts for four years. By concentrating on reading and speaking in English, Eliezer finished middle school with a college level reading ability. From there, he attended and graduated from ALAS High School where two of his older siblings also attended school. For Eliezer, ALAS was “a school that wanted to make a difference, not give up on anybody, and take students to college.” Eliezer says that the Maintenance Heritage Language Program helped him to continue working on his academic English skills while at the same time cultivating his academic Spanish language. Throughout school he played soccer and dedicated himself to making his mother proud of his accomplishments.
Eliezer graduated ALAS High School in 2008 and is currently a freshman at University of Wisconsin, Madison on full scholarship. He participates in M.E.Ch.A. (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan), a student organization that seeks to promote Chicano unity and empowerment through education and political action. He is also active with TRIO support services and the Latino Men’s Group which focuses on positively representing the Latino community on the Madison campus. He still plays soccer in his free time. In his own words, he is “a person with a dream and a past sufficient enough to inspire hundreds.”