Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Immigration puts pressure on southern schools

Gil Klein:

Sitting on the floor around teacher Angela Naggles, first and second graders watch intently as she prints words on her whiteboard and asks the children to read them.

Cat. Hat. Sat.

A boy does a good job and Naggles praises, “Muy bien.”

A visitor asks the class, “De dónde son?” (Where are you from?)

Mexico, pipes up one child. El Salvador. Honduras. Guatemala. Nicaragua. When Naggles proclaims, “Los Estados Unidos,” all the kids laugh.

Naggles, a Richmond, Va., native, is the fifth teacher added at Occoquan Elementary School in as many years to teach English-language learners. Nearly 200 of the school’s 535 students are not native English speakers, up from 42 five years ago.

Like many towns throughout the South, Occoquan, a distant Washington, D.C. suburb, is an immigrant magnet.

Most of these immigrants are from Mexico and Central America. The Hispanic population is growing faster in parts of the South than anywhere else in the United States, according to a recent report from the Pew Hispanic Center, “The New Latino South.”

Immigrants are showing up in places that had not experienced past immigration waves. They are arriving in cities, suburbs and rural areas alike. During the 1990s, Hispanics of school age in six states Pew studied – Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee – grew from 55,199 to 232,756, a 322 percent increase.

But that tells only part of the story.

Immigrants in the 1990s often were single men looking for work in construction, food processing, landscaping, and mills. Now, the report said, they are settling down, getting married and starting families.

Latino school enrollment in those states is projected to grow by 210 percent between 2001 and 2007 compared to 2 percent for non-Hispanic students. The study predicted that by 2007, Hispanic students will constitute 10 percent of the school-age population, compared to 4 percent in 2000.

The influx is putting pressure on schools to find teachers who can reach these students. At the same time, the federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that these English-language learners must make the same progress as native English speakers.

But the big influx is not limited to the six Southern states Pew studied.

For Prince William County schools, which include Occoquan, the number of students getting help with English jumped from 108 in 1987 to 9,996 this year -- doubling in the last three years. About 3,000 students spoke little or no English this September.

At Marumsco Hills Elementary School near Occoquan, principal Joanne Alvey doesn’t need a study to tell her that Virginia’s immigrant population more than doubled in the 1990s and is exploding.

She looks out the school’s front door at the neighborhood of typical suburban homes built in the 1960s and 1970s. Investors often buy them and rent them to three families of immigrants where one Anglo family used to live, she said.

“I live close to here so I am in the middle of the revolution,” said Alvey, whose school averages an additional 20 students with limited English proficiency each year. A little more than a decade ago, immigrants were hardly a factor at Marumsco, she said. Now nearly two out of three of the school’s 450 students need language help.

“It’s a revolving door,” she said. “Some leave and more come in. We get a lot of brand new kids throughout the year. We get kids who have never seen their names in print, never seen letters and numbers, never held a crayon.”

Mercedes Landón, a native of Nicaragua who settled in Occoquan three years ago with her husband who works in construction and their two children, a nine-year-old boy and 11-year-old girl.

While she says her children are getting is good education, Landón herself knows only a smattering of English words.

“There aren’t enough bilingual staff members who can translate. That’s the real barrier,” she said in Spanish. “Sometimes there are things (my children) don’t understand in class, and sometimes we have no idea how to help, and I ask, ‘How can my children do their homework?’ ”

Occoquan Elementary offers once-a-week night classes to involve immigrant parents in the school. But the Landón family is moving on. The rents are cheaper in Baltimore.

To meet No Child Left Behind requirements, schools must show “adequate yearly progress” for English-language learners, just as they do for other groups – whites, blacks, Hispanics, and special education students. The law requires testing every year from third through eighth grades.

English-language learners take all the tests. Only immigrants who have just arrived are exempted once from the regular reading test, said Kathleen Leos, the Education Department’s director of English language acquisition. The next year they have to take the same test as the other students.

“We have two goals,” Leos said. “All children must learn English and they should achieve at the same high academic level set by the state for all students.”

Many educators praise the No Child rule for forcing schools to pay attention to English-language learners. But some question whether the law is realistic in the long run because new immigrants are arriving daily.

Leos said the Education Department soon may be modifying the rules for recent arrivals to give them more time to learn English before they take the regular tests.

At Marumsco, the staff was “demoralized” when the school was cited two years ago because only 51 percent of the English-language learners passed the reading test, principal Alvey said.

She added more Spanish-speaking staff. She worked more with the immigrant parents so they could help their children. The next year 84 percent passed the test.

“We insist that the students learn,” she said. “There’s not a question about not doing your homework. You have been out of school because you were homeless for two weeks? Let me help you catch up. Grades don’t mean a hoot to these kids, but pleasing their teacher is important and that’s what we do.”

Qualifying to be an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teacher requires advanced training beyond a bachelor’s degree. Education schools at are scrambling to catch up.

“We have more emphasis on language and culture study,” said Education Dean Thomas James at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who added three professors to focus on immigrant education. “We are looking at a program of intensive language study for educators. But we have not yet taken that step.”

Speaking another language is not required to become a certified ESOL teacher. While most immigrants are Hispanic, speaking Spanish does not help with the polyglot of languages arriving in Southern schools.

“We have a Bengali speaker, a Chinese speaker, a Farsi speaker,” said Kari Wilson an ESOL teacher at Occoquan. “You need to teach children from any background.”

But how do these teachers begin to reach these students?

Wilson uses a monkey puppet to break the ice.

“Charades,” said Sarah Baatz, another Occoquan ESOL teacher. “A lot of pictures. You build their vocabulary at first and then work on phrases. The kids learn from other kids.”

For teachers like Angela Naggles and her ESOL colleagues at Occoquan, job security is not a problem. More children of immigrants are expected to show up, many after the Christmas holidays.

And that means Occoquan Elementary will soon be looking to add its sixth ESOL teacher.

And as more and more of these ESOL teachers are added to the payroll there will be less money available for other educational activities.


At 6:28 AM, Anonymous Reynold said...

Here, I do not actually consider this will have success.
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