Dora the Explorer just might be the first icon for the children of a new America — a country that is today about 14 percent Latino. This story, part of NPR's In Character series, looks at how TV channel Nickelodeon set about to create a character who could motivate kids to ask questions and participate.
Manuel Ventura, a senior at Bell Multicultural Senior High School in the District, came to the United States from El Salvador only five years ago. But last May, like every other junior at his high school, he took one of the most difficult English exams in the country: Advanced Placement English Literature. Next month, he expects again to join all of his classmates in taking another demanding exam: AP English Language and Composition. Last year, Bell Multicultural became the first public high school in the Washington, DC area to require all students to take college-level AP courses and exams. The mandate is all the more remarkable because its two required AP courses are both in English, and most of Bell's students are, like Ventura, from low-income families in which English is not the first language.
Minnesota's St. James School Board listened to parents and staff, and did not approve changes recommended by the administration that would reduce costs but increase class sizes. When the superintendent offered three options to the board that would not cut staff, but would reduce the number of sections in next year's fifth and sixth grades and create bigger class sizes, parents pointed out that their class has a high number of ESL and special needs students, and they said classes of that size would be too disruptive for their students.
A town hall meeting on the state-mandated English Language Learners law will be held by Sunnyside Unified School District officials this evening. District officials will present an alternative to the Arizona Legislature's plan for English language development in non-native English speakers. The plan adheres to the Legislature's required four-hour block of English language development daily for students identified as English-language learners, but only two hours of that would be with the ELL students segregated by English proficiency. During the final two hours, the ELL students would be together across proficiency levels, so the less skilled can learn from the more skilled, and math and science would be taught during those two hours.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act has helped prompt some school districts to develop, for the first time, a well-articulated curriculum for English-language learners — and even to work together in tackling what can be a daunting task for local educators.
In Cary, NC, a group of volunteers is taking an innovative approach to getting kids to read. Each Monday evening, the Read and Feed program holds two sessions for low-income students, many of whom are English language learners, and their parents at an RV where dinner is served before the lessons begin. The students in the earlier group are mostly second- and third-graders, working on understanding the main topic, the details, and the facts of a story, and translators are on hand to help parents participate in the lesson as well.
Western Kentucky University plans to unveil a certification program in the fall for students who want to teach English as a Second Language classes without getting a degree in education. WKU's English department has created a new ESL certification program that will qualify graduate students to teach ESL classes. The program is geared primarily toward students who are interested in teaching ESL classes abroad, with a lot of the interest coming from international students who want to teach English in their home countries.
Panelists and participants at the annual meeting of TESOL in New York City two weeks ago had more questions than answers on how to meet the needs of long-term English language learners. Kate Menken, an assistant professor of linguistics at Queens College of the City University of New York, noted at a session on high school reform that most programs serve the first of three groups of English-language learners that she's identified, newly arrived immigrants. But, she contended, educators "know next to nothing" about long-term ELLs — students who are in school systems for seven or more years without passing tests that would get them out of the category.
Willmar teacher Carrie Thomas has learned to say "thank you" in Somali, to the delight of the students in her English Language Learner class at Kennedy Elementary School in Willmar. The students laugh and correct her pronunciation every time she says it, Thomas said, but she keeps trying. "Our students need to be little risk takers," she said. "I think it helps them to see us take risks."
Sitting at tables pushed into a box at the McKinley Elementary School, several adults raised a hand when asked who had recently taken the U.S. citizenship exam. In rooms upstairs, their children were in preschool classes. There, a young Vietnamese boy in one room can answer in English when asked a question in Spanish by a classmate. The York City School District's Even Start program aims to promote literacy by offering classes jointly to parents and children. The city school district has more than 1,400 English learners, about 19 percent of the entire student population.