Catholic Schools Add Dual-Language Classes

While many public schools offer bilingual classes, not much is written about what Catholic schools are doing. Some are beginning to implement programs that reflect their substantial Latino student populations.

The News Tribune reports that Holy Rosary School in Tacoma, Wash., recently launched a new two-way language program known as Academia Juan Diego. The school began with preschool and kindergarten students, and will expand to older grades in the coming years. The students are a mix of native English and native Spanish speakers.

Three days a week students learn in Spanish, and two days in English.  They even pray in both English and Spanish at the beginning of the school day.

“We wanted to serve Hispanic students, and we wanted to increase our ministry and reach out to Hispanic Catholics,” principal Tim Uhl told the newspaper. “This is the future of the church.”

Last fall, St. Mary Star of the Sea School in Connecticut became the first Catholic school in the state to offer dual-language classes in English and Spanish. St. Procopius School in Chicago has had a dual-language program for more than 15 years.

Catholic schools have had an interesting relationship with bilingualism. Many churches now hold Spanish-language masses. When my mother was a child attending Catholic schools in San Antonio as a child, she wasn’t allowed to speak Spanish.

But in the book the Strange Career of BIlingual Education in Texas, 1836-1981, author Carlos Kevin Blanton describes how Catholic schools along the Texas-Mexico border in cities such as Brownsville and El Paso, and historically offered bilingual classes in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

How are Catholic schools instructing limited English proficient students in your area? Do they offer bilingual programs or instruction all in English? What are the outcomes for the children?

Related Links:

– “Tacoma’s Holy Rosary School takes bilingual path.” The News Tribune. 

– “Catholic education about to go bilingual.” The Day (Connecticut). 

– “Improving Bilingual Service Delivery in Catholic Schools Through Two-Way Immersion.” Marquette University (2010). 

– “The Strange Career of Bilingual Education in Texas.” (Excerpt). 

Do We Tell Enough “Good News” Stories About Latino Children?

Writer Esther J. Cepeda takes aim at an uncomfortable truth in a recent column–the often negative tone of articles written about Latino education issues.

We know the depressing headlines and statistics about Hispanics by now: high dropout rates, low test scores, high poverty rates and so on. They are all topics that have been addressed on this blog.

“Judging by news coverage of the nation’s fastest growing ethnic minority, you’d think that “the Hispanic condition” was a pathology,” Cepeda  writes. “WIth the exception of growing power in the voting booth, the news makes it seems as though we’re all poor, sick and generally unable to cope with life as well as others.”

Journalists often become defensive when accused of only telling “negative” stories–dwelling on failures, rather than education success stories. But instead of becoming argumentative, should reporters instead be a bit more introspective?

In Cepeda’s column, she cited the example of a recent study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, finding that Mexican-American toddlers don’t lag white children in social skills.

What popped out to her most was the follow sentence from the press release about the report: “The researchers caution teachers, pediatricians and other health care providers to ‘not assume social-emotional delays, even when language or cognitive skills lag somewhat behind.”

Cepeda goes on to write that the study shows that environmental factors such as growing up in low-income environments and a lack of reading together as a family explain why the Latino children may arrive at kindergarten academically behind their white peers. It’s not that Mexican-American children are incapable of learning at high levels.

Journalists must balance telling the hard truth with providing hope that solutions exist that do work. Don’t feel that you should shy away from reporting harsh realities. You’re not doing any favors by ignoring them.

Just keep an eye out for programs and people who are improving the academic outcomes of Latino students. They are newsworthy as well.

Related Links:

– “Esther J. Cepeda: Waiting for good news on Latino education.”

– “Mexican American toddlers lag in pre-literacy skills, but not in their social skills, new study shows.” UC Berkeley News Center.

– “Study: Mexican American Children Don’t Lag in Social Skills.” Latino Ed Beat. 

Minn. “TORCH” Program Supports Latino High School Students

Some years ago, a disturbingly high dropout rate among Latino students attending Northfield High School in Minnesota alarmed teachers and spurred them to take action. In 2004, the Latino graduation rate was 36 percent.

Minnesota Public Radio reports that the dropout problem resulted in the creation of a program targeting Latino students in 2005 known as  TORCH, or Tackling Obstacles and Raising College Hopes, aimed at improving graduation and college enrollment rates.

The program was started with a $40,000 grant from the state’s Office of Higher Education, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. It is funded with grants totaling about $100,000 per year, according to MPR.

TORCH leaders say the Latino graduation rate at the high school is now 90 percent and that so far 70 students participating in the program have graduated. Half of the alumni are enrolled in college. Program coordinator Beth Berry told MPR that she helped start program after feeling concerned that students were dropping out of school to work.

Students begin receiving individual after-school mentoring and tutoring, in addition to other programming. College students from the city’s St. Olaf College and Carleton College often mentor students. The program now has about 350 students, 50 of whom are in college. So far, 49 TORCH students have received a college degree or two-year certificate, MPR reports.

High school senior Frank Calvario told MPR News that the program helped improve his grades.

“It gives Hispanic students that sense of having control of what they’re going to do with their lives afterwards,” he said.

Other school districts are taking note. Just 20 minutes down the road, the Faribault school system is trying to replicate the model.

The students’ success is also drawing accolades elsewhere in the state. Minn. Sen. Al Franken stopped by to meet with students. In October, the Minneapolis Star Tribune published an editorial praising the program.

Related Links:

– “Northfield program shrinks Latino achievement gap,” Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) News. 

Northfield TORCH (Tackling Obstacles and Raising College Hopes).

– “Editorial: Northfield closes achievement gap,” Minneapolis Star Tribune. 

California Adult English Classes Vulnerable to Budget Cuts

School district administrators often talk about wanting to increase Latino parent involvement. Drawing immigrant parents in by offering English classes can create a gateway for future involvement by building a bridge between school and home.

But faced with the task of finding places to trim the budget, such classes can be an easy cut to make. Stateline, the news service of The Pew Center on the States, recently highlighted how a once-thriving adult English program in California vanished.

A program offered by the Oakland Unified School District that once served 14,000 people four years ago now serves only 320.

“Districts are so desperate for funds just to take care of their basic mission that they’ve had to make these horrible decisions,” Christian Nelson, Oakland’s head of adult and career education and president of the California Council for Adult Education (CCAE), told Stateline.

The Los Angeles school district offers just 200 English classes, and they often have long waiting lists to get in. The budget was four times larger four years ago.

A study released last July by the non-profit group EdSource, found that 23 of California’s 30 largest districts have experienced significants budget cuts to their adult education programs since the recession began. Some districts have closed adult education centers. The study reported that the Oakland Unified School District is expected to spend roughly $1 million on adult education this school year, down from $11.7 million in 2008-09.

According to EdSource, ESL classes are the largest adult education program in the state–GED programs rank second.

So how does it impact children when such programs are cut?

A couple of years ago, I wrote about a suburban Dallas school district offering ESL classes to parents. Many of the mothers I interviewed said they wanted to learn English so they could help their children with their homework, and expressed feeling helpless to assist them with schoolwork without English.

Does your local school district offer English classes to immigrant parents? And has the enrollment grown or dropped recently?

Related Links:

– “As Federal Immigration Overhaul Looms, California Schools Slash Adult English Classes.” Stateline. 

– “At Risk: Adult Schools in California.” EdSource. 

– California Council for Adult Education

Oregon “Parent Academy” Targets Latino Families

The Forest Grove School District in Oregon is trying to increase Latino parent involvement through a new monthly bilingual series of “Parent Academy” workshops.

The program, developed with the Salem/Keizer Coalition for Equality, addresses a variety of  topics of interest to migrant and English language learner parents. They include how to effectively communicate with schools, discipline, nutrition and using effective communication in the home.

Andrea Castillo of the Oregonian reports that the coalition helped train parents who wanted to volunteer to lead the workshops. The article notes that one workshop at an elementary school was titled “No Latino Student left Behind in Their Education” and taught parents about their rights.

“There is a great need to involve more parents,” workshop leader Ignacio Estevez told The Oregonian. “It betters schools, the community and makes families more prosperous. The saddest is that sometimes we have all the intention but don’t know the education system.”

Do you find similar efforts underway in your local school district? Is your district specifically targeting the needs and interests of Hispanic parents?

Related Links:

– “Parent Academy trains Forest Grove School District Latino parents to participate in their children’s education.” The Oregonian.

– Salem/Keizer Coalition for Equality. 

– Forest Grove School District. 

Report: Hispanic-Serving Institutions Achieving Success

Latino college students tend to be highly concentrated in a small number of schools known as Hispanic-Serving Institutions—public and non-profit colleges where 25 percent or more of the undergraduate students enrolled are Hispanic.

In fact, during the 2010-11 school year about 53 percent of Hispanic college students attended HSIs, which only make up about 10 percent of all higher education institutions. That same year, there were 311 HSIs in the nation.

The advocacy group Excelencia in Education group recently took a closer look at HSIs between 2004 and 2009 and made some interesting findings.

Since HSIs were first defined in 1992, the number of institutions has grown, as has federal funding in the form of Title V-DHSI grants–in the amount of $117 million in 2010-11. The institutions also are using the funds to focus more tightly on faculty development and student services.

Over the years, the federal funding has become more focused. For example, funds go toward purposes such as purchasing science equipment and books. Other funds go toward supporting low-income students with academic support services and mentoring.

The report highlights a number of successful uses of Title V funding:

Imperial Valley College of California used $548,125 toward Project ACCESO (Accessing Community College Education by Strengthening Outreach) initially in 2004. The college spend funds on faculty staff development, online assessments and improving technology.

Dodge City Community College in Kansas used $572,585 in 2007 to focus on student success, including strengthening developmental courses, broadening distance learning opportunities, developing ESL assessments and support and renovating the Academic Support Center.

Mountain View College in Texas used $464,589 in 2000 to focus on student success efforts including development a success center, supporting faculty development and implementing early intervention for struggling students.

Excelencia calls for future research to determine whether HSIs are increasing Latino student success with the help of federal funding support. Among the questions posed, the group asks: Does federal investment in institutional capacity building efforts develop stronger institutions and support access to a quality education? And, what measures of accountability ensure federal investments reach students?

Are there any HSIs in your area–and what are they doing to improve Hispanic student success? Because Latinos are so highly concentrated in a relative small number of colleges, the success of these schools plays a large role in determining the educational outcomes of Latinos in general.

Related Links:

– “From Capacity to Success: HSIs and Latino Student Success Through Title V.” Excelencia in Education. 

$1 Million Gift to Fund Scholarships for Undocumented College Students

Many elite colleges and universities quietly are providing financial assistance to undocumented immigrant students.

But perhaps the highest profile announcement of support for such students to date came this week, when the University of California, Berkeley, announced that it had received $1 million specifically intended to support scholarships for undocumented students. University officials believe it is the largest such gift of its kind to take place at an American higher education institution.

The awards will begin in 2013.

The Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Foundation is funding the gift, saying that it will “level the playing field” for such students. Such students are not eligible for federal financial aid, such as Pell Grants, federal loans or work-study jobs.

Many states, including California offer in state tuition to undocumented immigrants. But they still struggle to pay tuition, as they do not qualify for federal financial aid. Private scholarships and in some cases state aid — such as in California –are filling the gaps. The California Dream Act of 2011 allows students to apply for and receive non-state funded private scholarships to attend public universities and also allows them to apply for and receive state-funded financial aid.

“Now that it’s legal to do so in California, we encourage other foundations and private donors to consider providing funding to help undocumented students achieve their potential,” fund president Ira S. Hischfield said in an announcement.

The university estimates that the average family income for undocumented students attending the university is $24,000. In addition, about 200 students from 20 countries are currently eligible for assistance.

A news release from the university highlighted some of the students who will benefit and the importance of such an announcement.

“Against great odds, our ‘Dreamers’ have persevered to be here at Berkeley — adding so much to this campus,” said Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau, in the release. “We are grateful for the courage of these ‘Dreamers’ and also for the courage of those who stepped forward to support them.”

The university already has an undocumented student program coordinator who works with such students. The university is also focusing on addressing other issues faced by such students, ranging from mental health resources to legal services.

In making the announcement, the university also highlighted some of the undocumented students, including the story of Uriel Rivera. He dropped out of the university because he could not afford the tuition. According to the university, he plans to return to school next semester because of new assistance provided through the state’s “Dream Act.”

Jesus Chavez shared with National Public Radio how difficult it is to afford Berkeley as an undocumented student.

“The thing about undocumented students is that if you don’t have the money, then you get registration blocks, and then you can’t add classes for the next semester or you have to drop out,” he told NPR. “So you’re constantly hustling, and it’s nonstop.”

In your communities, are universities finding ways to make college affordable for undocumented students? Are they using foundation funds to award scholarships to undocumented students? Are such students receiving such support in the way of state aid?

Related Links:

– “Nation’s single largest gift for scholarships to undocumented students announced.” UC Berkeley News Center.

– “Berkeley receives $1M for Undocumented Students.” National Public Radio.

– “Grant to aid UC Berkeley’s undocumented students.” The Los Angeles Times.

– “Leveling the Playing Field for Undocumented Students.” Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund.

Study: Mexican American Children Don’t Lag in Social Skills

Mexican-American children may significantly lag behind white children in their early language and cognitive skills–but that doesn’t mean that they are struggling with social skills, according to findings by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, published this week in the Maternal Child Health Journal.

In fact, they find that there are no distinguishable differences in social skills between the two groups, despite economic disparities. They urge that educators and others to “not assume social-emotional delays, even when language or cognitive skills lag somewhat behind.”

According to a press release from UC Berkeley, the researchers included pediatricians, psychologists and a sociologist. The findings are from a sample of 4,700 children tracked for three years between the ages of two and five.

In previous findings, researchers have discovered that concluded that Mexican American children are read to less by their parents than white children and lag in their language skills as early as age two. They also found that despite the developmental gaps, Hispanic mothers have nurturing and warm interactions with their children.

Related Links:

– “Mexican American toddlers lag in preliteracy skills, but not in their social skills, new study shows.” UC Berkeley News Center.

– “The Social Organization of Early Education: Serving Latino Children and Families.” UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education.

– “Study finds Mexican mothers nurturing, but less likely to emphasize education.” Latino Ed Beat.

– “Hispanic Immigrants’ Children Fall Behind Peers Early, Study Finds.” The New York Times.

Study: Many Young Latinos are Out of School and Unemployed

A new study finds that American teens are finding it increasingly difficult to find work—creating a generation of disconnected youth. The Annie E. Casey Foundation estimates that almost 6.5 million teens are out of work and are not attending school.

The troubling numbers are even more pronounced among Latino and black teens ages 16 to 19–about 16 percent of whom are not working or in school. About 11 percent of white youth are in the same position. Among youth ages 20 to 24, about 23 percent of Latino young people are not in school or working–compared with 17 percent of white young people in the same age range.

The report provides state-by-state data breakdowns, which is useful because the percentages vary quite a bit depending on where you live in the country.

In the report “Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity,” the foundation suggests that a number of steps can be taken to combat the growing crisis. They include creating a national youth employment strategy, aligning resources among public and private funders, and encouraging employers to sponsor “earn and learn programs.” The organization wants to encourage collaboration between government, philanthropy and communities to make a change.

An article in The Los Angeles Times highlights one program that is working to reverse the numbers. Backed by $13 million in federal funding, the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District have partnered to offer education and job training at 13 youth centers throughout the city.

Are there any efforts under way in your community to combat this problem?

Related Links:

– “For school dropouts, a way to drop back in.” The Los Angeles Times. 

– “Nevada teens struggle to find jobs as national youth employment rate hits low point.” Las Vegas Review-Journal.

– “Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Youth Adult Connections to Opportunity.” The Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Grant Expands Access to STEM Courses for Minority Students

A $5 million grant from Google aims to increase the number of minority and female students enrolling in Advanced Placement courses in the areas of STEM–science, technology, engineering and math.

The AP STEM Access Program seeks to launch courses in about  800 high schools. Participating schools will begin offering the courses in fall 2013 and must commit to offering them for at least three years. The College Board, which administers the AP exam, will offer the program with the nonprofit group

Each school will receive about $1,200 to $9,000 for each AP course added, varying depending on the subject and equipment required to teach the class.

One of the requirements to be eligible for the funding will be having 10 or more Latino, black or Native American students and 25 or more female students who have high potential to successfully take a STEM course not already offered at their school. PSAT scores will be used  to determine this.

Teachers who increase classroom diversity will receive a $100 DonorsChoose gift card for every student earning a three or higher on the AP exam.

The grant is part of Google’s Global Impact Awards and goes to

STEM AP courses include biology, Calculus, chemistry, computer science, environmental science, physics and statistics courses.

“There are hundreds of thousands of talented students in this country who are being left out of the STEM equation — they’re not being given the opportunity to find their passion or pursue today’s most promising careers,” said Jacquelline Fuller, director of giving at Google said in a press release. “We’re focused on creating equal access to advanced math and science courses, and ensuring that advanced classrooms become as diverse as the schools themselves.”

The board also developed a list of schools eligible for the program, listed here.  It should be interesting to see how many schools follow through with participating. In your school districts, have you ever checked how which AP courses that are offered vary by high school? This can often reveal inequalities within a district, as well as between districts. Even if your community is not on this list, it would be interesting to see whether students are getting access to STEM courses.

Related Links:

– “Access to AP Courses in STEM to Grow with $5M Google Gift.” Curriculum Matters Blog. Education Week. 

– “The College Board, Google and Collaborate to Expand Access to AP STEM Courses in 800 Public Schools.” College Board.

– AP Stem Access Program. The College Board.