In a high school classroom, Xavier Chavez is trying to teach teenagers about Manifest Destiny — the 19th-century belief that the United States was divinely fated to stretch from sea to shining sea. But these students are children of immigrants, and they first have to learn English. They might soon have to learn it faster if Oregon voters approve a ballot measure in November to limit the amount of time students can spend in English-as-a-second-language classes.
Imagine you are a first-year teacher standing in front of your class tomorrow on the first day of school. What do you see before you? If you're picturing a group of 15 to 20 well-behaved children from similar backgrounds with similar abilities and English-language skills, each prepared to absorb your words of wisdom, you are clearly not envisioning the 21st century classroom.
Teachers can be "dream makers or gatekeepers," said Consuelo Castillo Kickbusch, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, where she became the highest-ranking Hispanic woman in the Combat Support Field. Kickbusch, 54, a motivational speaker who grew up in poverty in a Texas border town, encountered both kinds of adults at her high school.
More than 100 new Burmese refugees will enter the Utica City School District this fall, and another 15 are expected in Rome. To prepare, both districts are working to accommodate the needs of students — who do not speak English — as they look for more funding and new ways to teach the curriculum.
Twenty kindergartners gathered expectantly around their teacher Wednesday, the first day of an urban experiment nearly two years in the making at Aldama Elementary School in Highland Park, Los Angeles. They are going to learn Spanish and English and, teacher Amanda Kunkel promised, have fun. Lots of mothers and fathers have a tough time letting go on the first day of school. But it was especially difficult for some Aldama parents who brought equal parts of idealism and economic reality to work with L.A. Unified officials on starting a Spanish and English immersion program at their neighborhood campus.
About 70,000 of the kids headed to Oregon public schools this week will attend special classes to help them learn to speak and read English. Many of these "English Language Learners" have been getting help for a few years now. But under an initiative coming to this fall's ballot, students would get cut off from such help after two years. Advocates of Measure 58 say that spending any longer is a waste of time and money. Critics say the deadline would make matters worse.
Beginning this semester, Decatur High School is offering one of the few "Spanish for Spanish speakers" classes in the area. This fall, foreign-language teacher October Vanegas, who teaches both Spanish and French, has six native Spanish speakers in her new class. Some of them are fluent in reading Spanish, and others are not yet literate in Spanish or English.
Armando Sosa's elementary school is just a quick scramble up a steep dirt path and over a crosswalk from his home in Ramona Gardens, an Eastside housing project known for its crime and violence. If he's late, he can hear the school bell from his bedroom. His mother, Liliana Martinez, loves Murchison Elementary but worries that Armando's zeal for learning will wither in middle school. She has seen too many children from the projects nose dive in sixth grade and begin gravitating toward the gang life that has devoured the youth of Ramona Gardens for generations. So, along with other mothers, most of them Mexican immigrants struggling for a foothold in U.S. society, Martinez helped start a movement to keep children at Murchison at least through sixth grade. That is typically the first year of middle school.
Anyone who moves to a new place must undergo an adjustment period while adapting to the new environment, but that phase is oftentimes longer and more strenuous for those arriving from other countries. In many cases, these new residents speak little to no English, which means a simple task such as going to school can become a burden to students. While adjusting to a new culture these students are sometimes faced with ridicule and hostility from natural born citizens. These students can find a safe haven within the Lenoir County Public Schools' English as a Second Language classes.
Sandra Dymerski can't wait to share her language and culture with West Michigan children and a few adults. Dymerski, who is Mexican, is one of seven volunteers who will be telling stories in their native languages as part of the Kent District Library's bilingual story time program.