`FINDING Out/Discubrimiento'' is an educational droplet having a large ripple effect in this community. A means of teaching the English language to elementary-grade Hispanic children, the bilingual education program has sent ripples of confidence and understanding through Passaic's adult Hispanic population.
As program administrators relate, many Hispanics have felt estranged from the American education process.
``They've been afraid if they made a mistake people would laugh at them,'' explains Tony Perez, who heads bilingual efforts in the Passaic school district.
Dr. Annette Lopez coordinated Passaic's pilot FO/D in 1985-87 on behalf of Fairleigh-Dickinson University and is now helping to establish the program in at least two other Garden State school districts. She says, ``The traditional Hispanic attitude has been that the school is the authority figure, and `Who am I to get involved?'''
Half of Passaic's 50,000 inhabitants are Hispanic. Latins streamed to the largely blue-collar city from Puerto Rico and Cuba during the 1950s and '60s, lured by the promise of jobs and relatively affordable housing.
But two major asbestos manufacturing companies closed, for example, and a 1985 fire swept the industrial zone, causing large-scale layoffs. These hardships, coupled with more general Hispanic unease with American schooling, helped boost the dropout rate for Passaic's Hispanic students to one of the highest in the state.
Negative circumstances, then, persuaded a hopeful school board to welcome Fairleigh-Dickinson and ``Finding Out/Discubrimiento'' to this district.
Passaic's program is an adaptation of a concept developed at Stanford University in California. The Stanford model teaches English by way of science and math lessons. In Passaic's first pilot year, some 300 second- through sixth-graders gained self-assurance in English via activities such as making periscopes; studies of clocks including the sundial, Chinese water clock, French sand bottle, and pendulum-based time pieces; one unit sportively titled ``Measuring A Big Animal''; and - last but not least - close looks at a drop of water.