Since Catholic Charities started relocating international refugees to the Pittsburgh area a number of years ago, the Baldwin Borough public library staff has watched the refugees become one of its largest user groups. So, to better serve them, the library recently started an English as a Second Language collection geared toward parents and other adult refugees, made possible by a literacy grant from Verizon. While the initial swell of refugees were from Bosnia, in recent years they have included people from a variety of countries, including some of the so-called "lost boys" of Sudan. The collection includes DVDs, numerous reference books teaching the English language, novels, biographies, books about American culture and occupations, and materials to help prepare for the Testing of English as a Foreign Language exam.
As Canada's Inuit people struggle to keep their native language — Inuktitut — alive, they are looking to Quebec for an example of how to preserve their culture and of how legislation can strengthen a minority language. Two language bills now on the drawing board would require government and territorial bodies to offer services in Inuktitut, English, and French. They would also require private companies and organizations to offer services in Inuktitut — a move that could have huge implications for the people and government in the northern territory.
The son of immigrants from Mexico, Salomon Hernandez Flores knew firsthand the difference an education could make, both in his own life and later as a professor and early proponent of bilingual education. One of the first professors to teach about bilingual education and to bring the bilingual movement to a national level, he became an activist in the civil rights and Chicano rights movements. Flores, who passed away in December, was remembered by his son as a man who "wanted to open minds to the possibilities (and) at least get people to the doors of opportunity."
Ralph Antony Louissant is a sweet-faced 16-year-old who arrived to join his family in Brooklyn from Haiti in August. His family's attempts to get him registered in a New York City public high school started back then and culminated during two weeks in September, in an odyssey through five public high schools, trying to find one that would accept him. Such is the situation with many English-language learners (ELLs), advocates say, where more than half of New York City's new small schools have student bodies in which less than 5 percent are ELLs. And despite a number of rulings saying that each school must provide services for ELLs, Ralph Antony's experience shows that it's perhaps only through family persistence and the intervention of advocates that many immigrant students are getting the services to which they are entitled.
For thousands of Latinos, high school is about more than just making the grade: it's about learning the language. Many of them don't know where to start when it comes to making long term plans. That's where "Opening the Doors to the Future," a college preparation workshop implemented in a Washington school district, comes in. The objective is to provide Latino students and their families an opportunity to speak Latino professionals about how to continue their education and succeed in this country.
School was difficult for Luis Estrada during his first year at an elementary school in Oregon. Even though Luis was a third-grader, he didn't know what was going on because his first language isn't English. Says Luis, "It was like if you were in another world. You were a different person that didn't know anything about that world." Now, after a little bit more than a year, it's not so complicated. While Luis gets about 30 minutes of English as a Second Language instruction, the rest of the day is spent in their regular classes, and all of the teachers at his school have had training on how to help English language learners.
At Excel High School, in South Boston, teachers do not just prepare students academically for the SAT; they take them on practice walks to the building where the SAT will be given so they won't get lost on the day of the test. Those efforts, and others across the country, reflect a growing sense of urgency among educators that the primary goal of many large high schools serving low-income and urban populations — to move students toward graduation — is no longer enough. As a result, many urban and low-income districts, which also serve many immigrants, are experimenting with ways to teach more than the basic skills so that their students can not only get to college, but earn college degrees.
Next door to Ohio's University of Dayton campus is an elementary school packed with children but with not enough faculty members to assist the growing Hispanic population there. Roughly 18% of these students are considered English Language Learners, and the majority of the parents of the Hispanic students don't speak much English, thus making it hard for the students to submerse themselves outside of the classroom. This is where UD steps in. Beginning four years ago, through the university's Center for Leadership in Community and the department of languages, Spanish-speaking students have volunteered their time to help with the ESL program, translating lessons in Spanish, enforcing English as much as possible, acting as translators between the parents and regular faculty members, and trying to bridge cultural differences.
Mary Ann Zehr is an assistant editor at Education Week. She has written about the schooling of English-language learners for more than seven years and understands through her own experience of studying Spanish that it takes a long time to learn another language well. Her most recent blog entry discusses last week's Education Week article about researchers' findings that the claims of effectiveness of culture-based instruction are not yet backed up with empirical evidence from research studies.
Four years ago, Stefhania Salazar wasn't happy with her father's decision to move their family from Mexico City to the United States. Since she arrived in the U.S., however, the quiet Stefhania has turned herself from a non-English-speaking immigrant into a Decatur High School honor student in just four years. A panel of teachers selected Stefhania as the school's Student of the Month for January, and teachers throughout the school are expressing admiration for Stefhania's remarkable story and academic success.