Dept of ESL
University of Hawai‘i
Honolulu, HI 96822 USA
A Visit to CAP
April I had the pleasure of spending a day at Evanston Township
High School in Illinois at the Caribbean Academic Program (CAP).
Coming from Hawai‘i, where there are still many struggles
in the schools resulting from negative attitudes towards the local
language variety (Hawai‘i Creole English), it was heartening
to see the kind of program some of us envision carrying out here
being successfully implemented for speakers of Caribbean English.
had read about the program while in Hawai‘i (Fischer 1992a,
1992b) and was excited to find it doing well twelve years after
its inception. Kathy Fischer (founder of the program) graciously
agreed to my visit and I was able to observe classes and talk with
her, other CAP teachers and CAP students.
student body of Evanston Township High School consists of students
from a wide range of socio-economic, cultural and racial backgrounds.
There are speakers of a variety of immigrant languages as well as
African American English and Standard Midwestern English. Ten to
fifteen percent of the students are speakers of Caribbean English
Creole (CEC), who are mostly from Jamaica, but include some from
Belize and Barbados.
uses a language awareness approach (cf. Siegel 1997) to promote
positive student attitudes towards CEC while making salient the
differences between CEC and Standard English (SE). Students learn
about the histories of both CEC and SE with attention to relevant
issues of language and power. They use a contrastive analysis approach
(focusing on pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar) to promote separation
of CEC and SE within the students’ verbal repertoires. Readings
in CEC are incorporated into the curriculum and students engage
in translation activities from CEC to SE and visa-versa. CEC is
also used in oral discussion by students and CEC-speaking instructors.
spend part of the day in their CAP classes and the rest in regular
content courses. In addition to attention to language issues, CAP
serves as a cross-cultural bridge for students and a place to get
advising and other types of support. CAP staff also offer training
sessions to inform the rest of the schools’ teachers about
CEC and effective strategies for helping CEC-speaking students.
Kathy Fischer first arrived at the school, a disproportionate number
of the CEC speaking students were dropping or flunking out of school
or being placed in special education classes. At that time, attitudes
at the school toward CEC were negative, with many students denying
that they were CEC speakers.
I saw at the school in 1998 was a much different picture. Attitudes
towards CEC seemed quite positive. The numbers of CEC-speaking dropouts
and students in special education had reduced dramatically with
many students moving on to honors classes and going on to college.
one of the classes, I watched a student video presentation in which
CAP students had interviewed other students at the school about
their knowledge of CEC and their attitudes towards it. The CAP students’
pride in and understanding of their language came through clearly
in the video and in the subsequent discussion. CAP students seemed
to be well aware of the type of misunder-standings about language
that were common in the general population and took pride in their
own grasp of the issues.
of the increased status of CEC was apparent in the video-taped interviews
mentioned above. For example, one of the interviewees was a white
student wearing dreadlocks who proudly demonstrated his knowledge
of CEC and was rewarded by the female CEC-speaking interviewer with
the comment that he was cute. The CAP program is surely an important
contributor to this turn-around in attitude. Other factors which
may have played a part are the higher status of CEC brought about
by the popularity of the music of its speakers and the kinds of
social and sociolinguistic processes which Rampton describes in
his 1995 book.
visit to the school was brief but all indications were that something
quite positive was happening. Some of the discussions I participated
in with the CAP students about sociolinguistic issues were at a
level at least as sophisticated as those that take place in university-level
returning to Hawai‘i, I have thought often about the CAP program
and the possibilities for a similar program here. Ironically, we
may face more barriers here towards acceptance of the stigmatized
local speech variety (HCE) than of CEC. The CAP program has been
able to avoid controversies such as those surrounding Ebonics, HCE
or other indigenous varieties of English, by classifying itself
as a program for speakers of an immigrant language rather than a
variety of English. For example, there are no programs similar to
CAP for the many African American English speakers at the school,
nor for that matter are there CAP-type programs in Jamaica (though
they would likely prove quite helpful).
doubt part of what has made the CAP program so successful is the
quality of the teaching staff who not only have an in-depth knowledge
of the relevant linguistic issues but also themselves possess high
levels of bilingualism and biculturalism. This would be another
challenge to reproducing such a program here in Hawai‘i or
have tried to relate as accurately as possible what I have learned
about CAP through my visit and other sources but my perspective
is obviously limited. For those wishing to find out more about the
program, I suggest reading Kathy Fischer’s articles or contacting
her or the school directly. Perhaps like me, you will find it a
motivating example of what is possible for pidgins and creoles in
Fischer, Katherine. 1992a. Educating speakers of Caribbean English
in the United States. In Jeff Siegel, ed. Pidgins, creoles and nonstandard
dia-lects in education. Melbourne: Applied Linguistics Association
of Australia (Occasional Paper no. 12), 99-123.
––––––. 1992b. [Report]. Pidgins
and Creoles in Education (PACE) Newsletter 3, 1.
Rampton, Ben. 1995. Crossing: Language and ethni-city among adolescents.
New York: Longman.
Siegel, Jeff. 1997. Using a pidgin language in formal education:
help or hindrance? Applied Linguistics 18, 86-100.