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.
When Christmas holidays come around, so does a tradition to which a number of Alabama school systems have become accustomed: the departure of some of their Hispanic students before the holidays begin in December to countries like Mexico and Guatemala, and their return in January after classes have already resumed. In the past, many students have been absent from school for up to two or three months, causing students to miss tests and to slide back in their English language development. But the absentee tradition seems to be in decline, and school officials cite parents' increased familiarity with the U.S. school system and schedule, the shift of parent work from seasonal jobs to year-round jobs, and increased concern about immigration regulations for the fewer number of absences this past holiday season.
Marcelino Benitez said his best academic year was 12th grade. But unlike many of his classmates, he dreaded graduation because he still lacked the other documents he needed to make his way in the United States. Benitez, now 21, found help from two parent liaisons and a guidance counselor, who contacted their congressman and hired an immigration specialist to speed up his stalled resident visa application. Nearly two years and $10,000 later, Benitez has a fresh visa pasted into his passport. Now he is back in Northern Virginia, ready to pursue more skilled jobs in construction and eager to earn a degree in psychology or theology. For many illegal immigrants like Benitez, public school is a rare refuge. There's no requirement to prove legal immigration status to enroll in school. But the transition into the adult world can be abrupt, and these students pose special challenges for guidance counselors and other educators.
Walking into Shaina Lucas' class at Bijou Community School, the chattering of 5-year-olds drifts around the room in a mix of Spanish and English. This is the first year of the Two-Way Immersion Program, which is designed to teach students to become fluent in Spanish and English. During class, students create sentences in Spanish, along with sounding out letters to spell more words. School officials say that the program breaks down a lot of cultural barriers, since children can communicate with one another, and parents are noticing that their children now have the ability to interact with more kids who don't speak English.
Dozens of literacy programs, hundreds of English-language tutors, and thousands of new books in new libraries: that's what might be required to improve Stockton's status in Central Connecticut State University's annual literacy rankings. For the third year in a row, the survey — while its validity and relevancy remain dubious — ranks Stockton last in literacy among America's 69 largest cities. If Stockton's huge Latino population and other immigrant groups were removed from Central Connecticut's study, the literacy profile would be significantly different — but that wouldn't accurately reflect the diversity that's an essential ingredient of the city's character.
Martha Padilla-Ramos and Jose Barrera fondly remember the long car rides south to Mexico each December when they were children. At the end of the trek awaited their cousins, delicious food, trips to church and days of parties to celebrate Christmas. It was a beloved part of their childhood, so the Chicago-area school administrators understand why families make the annual trek to their homelands. But they can't understand why so many families plan these trips to last a month or more, far beyond the traditional two-week holiday break Illinois schools allow.