Communication was the single biggest challenge for Ailed Perez when she moved to the United States from Mexico about four years ago. Today, the 13-year-old Green Bay middle school student easily speaks English, is enrolled in mainstream classes and is used to how things work in an American school. While getting up early is perhaps Ailed's biggest school-related challenge these days, the communication difficulties that once plagued her remain for her parents. In the increasingly diverse Green Bay School District, Ailed's parents aren't alone. But school officials are making a variety of efforts to ensure parents — not just their kids — are getting the message.
Details come slowly. At first, all fifth-grade teacher Ashley Hardin knows is the name of her new student. Hardin learns the girl arrived from Honduras and has never before been in school. The student speaks Spanish, but can't read it. She hasn't been taught that letters form words, have specific sounds, or are read from left to right. She knows no English but "hello." School has been in session for a month and Hardin is still learning how the student came to America and what life was like in Central America.
The federal No Child Left Behind requires that non-English speaking students must take the same standardized tests as their English-speaking counterparts. It certainly puts those students at a disadvantage and also works against the schools' test scores. It's simple: If a student can't understand the questions in English, how can he be required to pass the test?
Johnny Romah was 17 on his very first day of school. A member of the Montagnard — or mountain — people of Vietnam, Romah arrived in Vancouver in 2005 after an exhausting year spent in a refugee camp in Cambodia. In halting English, which still, at times, sounds foreign and jumbled to the Canadian ear, Romah tells a harrowing tale of walking for days, barefoot and frightened, through waist-high water and hostile jungle before reaching the refugee camp. Before coming to Vancouver, he'd never spent a single day in a classroom, never read a book, and only once, in the refugee camp, could he recall ever attempting to put pen to paper.
A consortium of states is creating a test for English-language learners that will be the first of its kind, and the effort just got a boost of about $1 million from the U.S. Department of Education. That grant of a little more than $1 million is part of the $7.5 million in grants for test development that U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced last Friday. The new test will be the first English-language-proficiency test designed for English-language learners who have severe disabilities.
Which state has the largest Latino population? Which is witnessing the biggest influx of Latino immigrants? The answers to these questions could be the deciding factor in the presidential election come November. "The Hispanic population is growing; whites and Asians are not replacing themselves," says Jane Dye, the U.S. Census Bureau demographer who wrote the latest study on birth rates. North Carolina is the state with the fastest Latino growth rate, growing an astounding 393 percent between 1990 and 2000. So what's fueling such exponential growth? High birth rates and immigration.
Zavala Elementary School teacher Rebecca Palacios and her former students will share the limelight today and Sunday when a documentary about the importance of reading to children airs on TV. In October, a crew filmed Palacios' interactions with students for an episode of Public Broadcasting System's "Reading Rockets" series that will focus on Palacios' dual-immersion teaching method and mentoring in a preschool environment.
Students in Mark Etheridge's kindergarten class were divided into groups of four to six, each group working at a different station. At some stations, students used an auditory system while reading, "Clifford the Big Red Dog," books. At other stations, students manipulated building blocks, colored with crayons, worked at computer stations, or took a snack break. This year, local elementary ESL programs in Park City, Utah are focusing on a step-in model instead of separating students into different classrooms.
When trustees considered shutting down Castro Elementary School three years ago, one Mountain View, CA family worried that not enough information about the closure was reaching the Latino community, which made up more than half of the student population there. Due at least partly to the Garcia family's efforts, Castro was spared by the trustees, who decided instead to close a different school.
When he was 5 years old, Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones nearly drowned at a water park. Now he wants to help children swim and encourage minorities to take up his sport. Jones, who won a gold medal with the U.S. 400-meter freestyle relay team in Beijing, was honored in his return to his hometown where he launched a nationwide "diversity tour" for swimming. "There are so many African-Americans and Latin Americans that are afraid of the water, but love to be in the water," Jones said. "And that's the problem. That's what this diversity tour is about."