Vol. 7. No. 1 R-7 June 2003
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La Clase Mágica: Imagining Optimal Possibilities in a Bilingual Community of Learners

Olga A. Vasquez (2003)
Mahwah: New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers
Pp. vii + 237
ISBN: 0-8058-4024-9

La Clase Mágica: Imagining Optimal Possibilities in a Bilingual Community of Learners by Olga Vasquez is a enlightening detailed description of the early transformations of an after-school program that began as an educational activity and deliberately turned into a social action project to serve those with little access to educational resources. Taking a primarily critical theory research perspective, the book describes the complex interaction between a community and a university in order to build an educational program to meet the needs of a Mexican community in San Diego, California. Citing research showing high rates of non-attendance in college as well as dissatisfaction with traditional methods of schooling for diverse populations, the author seeks to explore the relationships between bilingualism, biculturalism, local universities, communities, and families on long-term issues of access to higher education.

The strength of this book lies in the fact that it provides a very detailed description of the process, planning, and considerations that went into creating La Clase Mágica while simultaneously making clear that it is not intended to become a mass-produced program. Rather, the book gives readers a sense of the questions, challenges, and rewards of working closely with a specific community in order to create a successful context specific program. Reading about the longitudinal development of La Clase Mágica would be instructive for anyone considering the components of multifaceted educational partnerships between universities and communities.

La Clase Mágica stemmed from a previously existing program called The Fifth Dimension. The Fifth Dimension was an after-school computer program where students participated in a role-playing computer game as they completed a maze. In order to complete the maze, students needed to answer questions and solve problems in each room of the maze. Although the Fifth Dimension was located in a Girls and Boys Club in a Mexican community, repeated attempts to attract Mexican-American students had failed. When Vasquez became involved with the project she observed the life and language patterns of the community and decided to try creating a program different from but based on The Fifth Dimension. At the beginning of La Clase Mágica, the location of the program was changed to a local church which many Mexican families attended and the language used in the computer program was changed to Spanish, the students' home language. The game remained a role-playing, problem-solving game as it had been at The Fifth Dimension, but it was sprinkled with names from Mexican culture and the Spanish language. These two changes were enough to encourage Mexican students to begin to attend La Clase Mágica after school. [-1-]

During the 7 years the book spans, Vasquez describes the negotiations between the university and the community as they worked to build a program suited to the needs of the community. The ultimate goal of the university researchers was to create a program that could eventually be overseen and maintained by the community. To encourage the growth of community oversight, training sessions for parents and community members were held occasionally and Vasquez increasingly transferred duties and decisions over to community members. Although no longitudinal empirical evidence is available yet concerning the school performance and college attendance rates of La Clase Mágica participants, Vasquez feels confident that the program does help students academically and will make a difference in issues of access to university entrance.

La Clase Mágica provides a comprehensive look at how university professors turned an after-school program into a program of social action addressing the needs of its community. The book addresses many of education's most perplexing questions concerning the needs of language and culture minority students. The success of La Clase Mágica is clearly due to years of work and negotiation between the university and the community. The book offers researchers and practitioners insight and inspiration for rethinking educational goals and objective and to reframe the educational opportunities of under-served populations.

Zohreh Eslami-Rasekh
Texas A&M University

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