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.
Luis is one of 21 students who get 30 minutes of English as a Second Language instruction every day at the Roseburg grade school. The rest of the day is spent in their regular classes, and all of Rose's teachers have had training on how to help English language learners. Bringing the children to one location is a new practice this school year. Teacher Christina Byrd said the advantage is that students get more interaction with other children who are learning English.
The campus of California State University San Marcos is nearly deserted at this time of year, but five classrooms have been busy with learning. This week, about 100 fourth- and fifth-graders from a local elementary school have been studying at the university during their winter break in an effort to increase vocabulary development and reading comprehension in new subjects. The program also allows the young students, many of whom come from low-income families and are learning English, to work in a real university setting, and encourages them to start believing that they too can go to college.
One of the first things teacher Suzan Moore does when she meets a new ELL student for the first time is give them a tour of the lunchroom. Moore, who serves as an English as a second language teacher for the Powhatan County, VA school system, is tasked with helping students with limited English skills succeed in their new environment. Moore travels from school to school during the course of her work day, addressing specific issues each student in the program might be having. It might be eighth grade science vocabulary words one day and elementary school phonics the next. One thing is clear, though — her skills are in demand. Since first coming to Powhatan in 2005, Moore has seen the ESL program grow by nearly seventy percent.
When the coach of Clinton Young Elementary's fifth-grade basketball team heard that more tutors were needed to help Hispanic students learn English, he knew who would volunteer. Coach Travis Hensler, a fourth-grade teacher at the Perry Township public school, asked the 10 players on his fifth-grade team to volunteer. They quickly agreed. Sarah Harbert was delighted with the team's response. A teacher in the school's English Language Learners program, she is the one who issued the call for help and immediately assigned the players to start working with the youngest students most in need of assistance.
So in November, the players began early morning tutoring and paired up for about a half-hour with at least one ELL student.