Teacher uses Hispanic Comic Hero to Inspire Students

Latino characters are often lacking in the books that students read. A Dallas bilingual teacher is working to fill that void by creating a Latino comic book superhero.

Dallas Independent School District second-grade teacher Hector Rodriguez created “El Peso Hero” to offer a positive Hispanic character who champions immigrants and fights crime.

Some of the themes addressed are those that students and their families may be familiar with. The superhero speaks in Spanish, but other characters speak English.

The Dallas Morning News reported that Rodriguez shares the comics with his students. Andrea Delgado, 7, told the newspaper that she likes the character and how he helps people with his special powers.

“I was like, ‘Wow, how can he do that’?” she said “I want to be a writer like my teacher, and I want to draw.”

If you speak with teachers or librarians in your area, do they include diverse characters in the classes and librarians at school?

Related Links:

“Dallas teacher creates comic hero to fight wrongs against immigrants,” The Dallas Morning News.

“Young Latino Students Don’t See Themselves in Books,” The New York Times.

“Librarians Create Bilingual Reading List,” Latino Ed Beat.

Librarians Create Bilingual Reading List

In the Dallas school district, a group of librarians meets every year to create a special reading list for Hispanic children. The librarians strive to identify 20 of the best bilingual books for Spanish-speaking elementary school children.

The librarians call themselves the luminarias (lights used to guide the way), because of how they view their role as shepherding young readers. In Dallas ISD, this is especially critical since almost 70 percent of the district’s students are Latino, and nearly 40 percent are classified limited English proficient.

Reporter Stella M. Chavez of KERA radio reported on the group, and observed as children flipped through some of the books on the list at a local library. There is more than just an educational value to the list.

“They also love to see characters that are Hispanic and that’s starting to be more and more predominant but it’s far from where it needs to be,” Dallas elementary school librarian Maryam Mathis told KERA.

The books include El Fandango de Lola, about a Spanish girl who learns how to dance the fandango. The book La Hermosa Señora  is about the legend of Our Lady of Guadalupe. And Cuento de Noche is a bedtime story.

Have you seen efforts to compile similar reading lists?  

Related Links:

– “Librarians In Search of Books for Latino Kids,” KERA (NPR). 

– Library Programs, Dallas ISD (Scroll down for Luminarias Reading List)

– “For Young Latino Readers, an Image is Missing,” The New York Times.

Latinas 4 Latino Literature.

Latino Characters Lacking in Books for Young Readers

Despite the growing diversity of the U.S. population, the representation of Hispanics in literature for young readers isn’t keeping pace.

A recent article in The New York Times addresses the problem. Education reporter Motoko Rich describes how 8-year-old Mario Cortez-Pacheco of Philadelphia already notices that the characters he reads about in books such as “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” don’t look like him.

“I see a lot of people that don’t have a lot of color,” he tells her.

The article notes that the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education analyzed the race and ethnicity of authors and characters in 3,400 children’s books published in 2011. They found that only about 3 percent of the books were written about or by Hispanics.

“If all they read is Judy Blume or characters in the “Magic Treehouse series who are white and go on adventures, they start thinking of their language or practices or familiar places and values as not belonging in school,” Mariana Souto-Manning, an associate professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College, told the Times.

The story does list the names of some young Hispanic authors who are successful–Julia Alvarez, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Alma Flor Ada and Gary Soto.

Have you reviewed the reading lists for children in your district, or even state? How much diversity is included?

Related Links:

– “Young Latino Students Don’t See Themselves in Books.” The New York Times.

– Cooperative Children’s Book Center. School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

– “5 Children’s Books That Teach About Latino Culture.” Fox News Latino.

Miami Prepares For Impact Of Common Core Standards On ELLs

School districts around the country are scrambling to phase in the Common Core State Standards. The consensus seems to be that more teacher training and professional development is needed, especially because the new standards are much more rigorous.

But are districts considering their English language learner population as they phase in the changes?

I recently wrote a piece about how the Miami-Dade Public Schools are trying to address how the changes will impact ELLs. The district held training about the common core and ELLs for 200 teachers in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program over the summer. In addition, the school district has developed pacing guides for teachers that include notes on how lessons can be adapted for ELLs.

“We are modeling for the teachers how to make the instruction very explicit and very concrete,” said Beatriz Pereira, executive director of bilingual education and world languages at Miami-Dade. “The standards are extremely high.”

In Miami, the common core standards have been implemented in kindergarten through third grade. Miami-Dade has about 70,000 ELL students district wide.

Some teachers feel there needs to be more training on how to teach ELLs–not just for ESOL teachers, but also for core subject area teachers and teachers who are not solely dedicated to teaching ELLs.

“The common core standards for ELLs sound great,” said Gustavo Rivera, a history teacher at Miami Springs High School and member of the Hispanic Educators Committee of the United Teachers of Dade. “It’s all very nice until you get to the area of application. How do you apply them? That, to me, is the most worrisome.”

You should ask your local district about the training they are offering to teachers on the common core–and if any time is spent addressing how the standards impact ELLs. Is the school district putting time into addressing the group?

EWA hosted a conference  last week about the impact of the common core on ELLs along with the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University’s “Understanding Language” initiative.  Click here to view videos from the seminar. To read tweets from the conference, look up the hashtag #ewaell.

Related Links:

– “Common Core and ELLs: Lessons from Miami.” Education Writers Association.

Understanding Language. Stanford University.

– Colorin Colorado

– Council of the Great City Schools.

English Language Learners Struggle on NAEP Writing Exam

English language learners in the eighth and 12th grades scored significantly lower than English-proficient speakers on the latest results from the  2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress–known as the “Nation’s Report Card.”

Even proficient speakers struggled on the exam. Only about a quarter of all students taking the exam scored at or above the proficient level. The exams were scored out of a total possible score of 300.

– In the eighth grade, ELLs scored a 108, versus 152 for students who were not ELLs . Hispanic eighth-graders scored an average of 136 on the exam, while white students scored a 158. The average score for all students combined was a 150.

– In the twelfth grade, ELLs scored an average of 96, compared with a score of 152 for non-ELLs. Hispanic twelfth-graders scored an average of 134, compared with an average of 159 for white students. The average score of all students combined was a 150.

– In the eighth grade, about 1 percent of ELLs performed at or above the proficient level, compared with 14 percent of Hispanic students and 34 percent of white students.

– In the twelfth grade, 1 percent of ELLs performed at or above the proficient level, compared with 11 percent of Hispanic students and 35 percent of white students.

For the first time, students were able to take the exam on laptops that provided basic word processing functions. ELLs were less likely to use the thesaurus function than the English proficient students. Moreover, students who used the thesaurus tool scored higher on the writing tests than those who did not.

Related Links:

– NAEP: 2011 Writing Results.

– “The Nation’s Report Card Releases Results from an Innovative, Interactive Computer-Based Writing Assessment.” National Assessment Governing Board. 

– “ELLs Trail Significantly on National Writing Exam.” Learning the Language. Education Week. 

– “NAEP Shows Most Students Lack Writing Proficiency.” Education Week. 

Report Outlines Education Agenda for Latino Students in Illinois

Nearly one in four Illinois public school students is Latino. And their story is no longer confined to the Chicago Public Schools, where Hispanics are 43 percent of the enrollment. Most of the  state’s Latino student population is now in the suburbs and rural areas.

new report by the Latino Policy Forum lays out the challenges facing the population. Only one in three Latinos are enrolled in preschool. By the time they reach the third grade, these Latino students lag white students by 31 percentage points in reading scores.  English Language Learners, 86 percent of whom speak Spanish, lag 48 points in reading by third grade.

“Such statistics are alarming, and these trends left unchecked will have devastating implications for Illinois: ensuring positive outcomes for their community is no longer simply a Latino issue,” the Shaping Our Future report says. “The well-being of Latinos–whose population has increased by nearly 500,000 over the last decade–is inextricably linked to the well-being of all of Illinois?”

So, what can be done?

The report identifies areas of interest and specific action items to be taken on:

Raising Academic and Instructional Standards:

The report suggests providing linguistically appropriate tests for students, such as increasing students’ time to take tests and allowing students to respond in Spanish. In addition, it advises that students complete college prep coursework and be provided programs such as dual-language instruction.

Preparing Teachers and Academic Leadership:

The Forum urges racial diversity among the teacher and administrator workforce. It urges that bilingual and mainstream teachers have proper training to deal with the diverse student population. In addition, it seeks to promote Latino students’ access to highly qualified teachers.

Addressing Funding and Facility Concerns.

The state’s heavy dependency on property taxes to fund schools has perpetuated continued unequal funding districts, with high-minority districts receiving about $1,595 less per student than low-minority districts. The Forum promotes advocating for increased funding and new strategies for distributing funds. In addition, it suggests building schools to be able to prevent overcrowding and increasing students’ access to technology.

Fostering Partners in Education.

The organization has planned the Acuerdo group geared at bringing Latino organizations and leaders together to advocate for the community’s needs and push initiatives forward.

Partners with schools, classrooms and school districts can include community-based organizations, foundations, businesses, faith-based organizations, health organizations and families. They can provide resources for issues such as funding support and providing support such as gang prevention programs.

The report also stresses the importance of family involvement initiatives, such as sharing with parents school information such as the benefits of preschool. Schools can also be educated themselves about how to go back to school and learn English. In addition, the report points out that suburbs often have fewer community organizations that provide services than Chicago, and are in need of more partners.


The Latino Policy Forum also hosted a discussion today along with leaders from the National Council of La Raza, Chicago Public Schools and Illinois State Board of Education in conjunction with the report’s release. WestEd’s Aida Walqui, an expert on ELLs, also spoke about the common core standards.

Related Links:

– “Shaping Our Future: Building a Collective Latino K-12 Education Agenda.” Latino Policy Forum. 

– Education Acuerdo

Latino Policy Forum

For ELLs, Storytime with Mom Leads to Learning in Kindergarten

Young children who are English language learners from low-income homes perform better in kindergarten when their mothers read to them beginning when they are just six months old, says a new study.

Researchers at the University of Utah analyzed the impact of early literacy initiatives on 40 low-income Latina immigrant mothers and their children. All of the families had incomes below the federal poverty level, 87 percent of the mothers were from Mexico and 44 percent of mothers had not completed the 8th grade.

The mothers all participated in the Reach Out and Read program, in which children and families are given books and advice during medical checkups. Doctors and nurses speak with the parents about the importance of reading. In the clinic studied, most of the doctors were bilingual. The parents were first offered books in Spanish because of their language skills, and then gradually given bilingual books. Parents were provided reading instruction. The clinic also had a library and bilingual librarian available in part through the Salt Lake County Library System.

An estimated 37-45 percent of the children were identified as at high risk for reading difficulty during the summer before kindergarten, but they actually fared quite well during their first year in school. Kindergarten teachers identified 60 percent of the children as intermediate or proficient in reading; the children had average or above average literacy skills by the end of the year. Teachers also responded that 77 percent of the children in the study were average, above average or far above average in their reading ability when compared with other children in the same grade.

When the children were interviewed before they began kindergarten, researchers found that 76 percent of them could name a favorite book, half were able to identify a word and 56 percent were able to write their first name.

Families are given about 10 books through the program, and half of participants reported owning 25 or more children’s books. About 59 percent of the mothers said they had read to their child the day before being surveyed, compared with a daily rate of about 36 percent for all low-income children.

Do you know of early intervention programs in your community? The Reach Out and Read program has sites in multiple states. In addition, I’ve blogged before about the HIPPY and AVANCE programs, which both teach mothers about the importance of literacy and emphasize their role as their child’s first teacher.

A thank you to Education Week’s Learning the Language blog for calling my attention to this study. The study, “Kindergarten Readiness and Performance of Latino Children Participating in Reach Out and Read,” was published in the Journal of Community Medicine and Health Education.

In Tucson, Activists Protest the Removal of Books by Latino Authors

Depending on whom you ask, the Tucson Unified School District is either banning books or just boxing them up for storage.

But everybody agrees that numerous books written by Latino authors were removed from classrooms in January. They were banished after Arizona’s school superintendent John Huppenthal deemed the Mexican American Studies program racially divisive and illegal. As a result, books were removed when the program was dismantled.

Authors, librarians, students and teachers are among those protesting the actions. The American Library Association has adopted a resolution condemning the restriction of access to books associated with the ethnic studies program; the association cited the importance of including diverse authors in student curriculum.

CNN has reported that many students are disappointed by the decision. “I feel really disheartened,” Maria Therese Mejia, a senior at Tucson Magnet High School, told the network. “Those are our history, you know? It’s ridiculous for them to be taking away our education. They’re taking (the books) to storage where no one can use them.”

Activists calling themselves librotraficantes are planning a protest  to “smuggle”  books by Hispanic authors into Tucson and then giving them away in the city.

Author Luis Alberto Urrea, whose books were originally taught in the classes, has taken to Twitter repeatedly to oppose the actions of the school district. Urrea, the son of a Mexican father and American mother, writes often about the life at the border between Mexico and the United States. “What’s heartbreaking is I don’t think it’s about banned books,” he said in a talk last week at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “It’s a bigger thing. It’s about banning ethnicity.”

He added that books are meant to be gateways and instead the ethnic studies course. “What divides us is not education,” he said. “What divides us is censorship.”

The school district has released an official list of seven books removed from the class room, many of them focused on race relations and civil rights. They included “Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement” by Arturo Rosales and “Message to Aztlan” by Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales. District officials also issued a statement calling accusations of a book ban “false and misleading.”

The majority of students in Tucson schools are Latino. So how important is it for students to read literature that reflects their own ethnic background? Some research suggests that students like to read about characters who share their background, which can help build self-esteem.

Does your school district have ethnic studies courses and what sorts of books do they use? Does your district have any initiatives to diversify what students read? Do students in your district have the opportunity to read about historical figures such as Cesar Chavez?

What Third Grade Reading Says About High School Graduation

Here in Chicago last week, the Latino Policy Forum and Advance Illinois co-hosted a breakfast discussion with Donald Hernandez, a sociologist with Hunter College, City University of New York, about his recent research showing that children’s reading prowess in third grade strongly predicts whether or not they will graduate from high school. A small group of educators, policy analysts and foundation officers used the findings as a springboard to talk about what can be done in Illinois to increase the number of students reading proficiently by third grade, especially among Latinos and English-language learners.

Hernandez stated the main point of his research succinctly: “Lack of reading proficiency compounds the effect of poverty on graduation rates.” In other words, children who have spent even one year of their lives in poverty are less likely to graduate from high school than children who come from more affluent families. When children in poverty can’t read well by third grade, their chances of graduating from high school shrink even more.

Those gathered at the meeting discussed a number of strategies that could reduce the number of children in this kind of “double jeopardy.” A critical piece would be not only developing more and better early childhood programs–especially in the underserved Latino neighborhoods of Chicago and its suburbs–but also connecting those programs to K-3 in neighborhood public schools so that children’s early learning gains don’t fade out once they start elementary school. Illinois is working on changing its teacher licensing system to align better from pre-K through 3rd grade and also retooling principal preparation to ensure elementary school principals better understand how to work with early educators.

On a parallel track, the group discussed the importance of helping families engage in their children’s early learning.  Hernandez’s report recommends using “two-generation” strategies to educate parents and ensure families have access to health insurance so their children can get help with developmental delays as well as routine health conditions.

Some story ideas occurred to me as I listened to the discussion:

1. Spend two days with two early educators with similar credentials working with similar students but in different settings. For example,  watch an early educator working in an elementary school’s state pre-kindergarten program and compare her day–class size, curriculum and her pay–to that of an early educator working with four-year-olds in a private,  licensed daycare center who is likely making a lot less money. How similar are the experiences for the children? How do differences in pay and working conditions affect the early educators’ views of their jobs?

2. Talk with stay-at-home Latina moms to find out why their children are or are not in preschool. While there’s a common perception that Latino families want to keep their children at home for cultural reasons, Latino Policy Forum’s Sylvia Puente calls that a myth and cites research showing that most if not all the differential in Latino preschool enrollment can be explained by economics. Puente cites the popularity of half-day preschool run by Through A Child’s Eyes in the Chicago suburb of Cicero, Ill. as an example to break the stereotype.

3. Reporters can look at teacher licensing issues by talking with elementary school teachers and principals about current staffing practices, which sometimes call for upper elementary teachers (6-8) to come back down to K-3. Or the reverse: I can recall one occasion when a kindergarten teacher was reassigned to 8th grade math following a wholesale shakeup of the school’s faculty. What age groupings make the most sense to working teachers and principals, and are those groupings the ones favored by policymakers? Here in Illinois, the issue of licensing is becoming even more complicated with the recent state rule that preschool teachers working with large numbers of English-language learners must have a bilingual teaching credential.

Study Highlights Academic Hurdles Latino Students Face

A new report looking at Latino achievement levels from the Council of the Great City Schools covers some familiar territory: lower reading proficiency rates on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, greater dropout rates and risks, lower levels of “readiness to learn.”

But “Today’s Promise, Tomorrow’s Future: The Social and Educational Factors Contributing to the Outcomes of Hispanics in Urban Schools” also includes some interesting tidbits that often escape the scrutiny of education reporters.

According to the report, Latino students take fewer Advanced Placement courses and score lower on SAT and ACT exams, putting them at greater risk of not getting into college. For example, only 20 percent of Latinos took an AP exam in 2010, compared to 60 percent of white students.

Since college recruiters are increasingly considering AP classes and exam scores as criteria for admission, the lack of advanced courses can pose major obstacles for students planning to go to college. Are Latino students simply not enrolling in available classes, or do the schools they attend not offer AP courses? Do their families lack the money for exam fees? If so, do schools offer financial help for struggling students?

The report also looks at “school experience,” finding that Latino students are “less likely to participate in academic clubs, more likely to be suspended from school, and more likely to be retained in a grade than their White peers.” In addition, Latino students were more likely to work more than 20 hours per week than their classmates.

Once again, these factors can play a major role in postsecondary options. Extracurricular, community-service and other school-related activities are often key in gaining admission to a selective college. If Latino students are not engaged in those activities, they can be at a disadvantage when it comes to applying to college.

Likewise, working long hours can result in lower school performance and less time for those prized extracurricular activities. One way to illustrate the hurdles many Latino students face might be to simply shadow a student during a typical school day or school week. Are they juggling work, school and family responsibilities? If college is a goal, what is standing in the way? What kind of help is available?