Schools Labor with Language: Part 2
Some students use their first computer in the Des Moines center.
"The bottom line is to give them some stepping stone for their life," Said Vinh Nguyen, Des Moines English Language Learner director.
Mid-Missouri is about 300 miles from Des Moines, but they have something in common, along with the rest of the nation: a growing population of students who speak little or no English when they start public school. A Pew Hispanic study showed the U.S. Hispanic student population grew by 64% from 1990 to 2003, while the African-American student population rose 23%, and the white student population dropped by 1%.
"We've grown every year, I mean, you can really predict it every year," said Beckie Hocks, Columbia ELL teacher, "but they really don't build for that in our school district."
Columbia public schools' new immigrant population, defined as students who have lived in the U.S. less than 3 years, has almost doubled since 2000, from 147 to 280 students.
"If they don't speak any English, we're not really serving their needs very well," admitted Judy Trujillo, Columbia ELL coordinator. "We need some type of special programming for these students."
One student who came to Columbia from Mexico, Emmanuel Trujillo, spends more than half of his school day in study hall or gym class at Hickman High. Hocks said a newcomer center would help students like him ease into Columbia schools.
"It would just build in a little flexibility to our system, so students just aren't plopped into our system without even saying hello," she explained. "There are pieces of the newcomer center that are critical to our program because of a critical need in both cities to teach English right away. How you run the program is critical. How you teach the students is critical. If they can't catch up [on] English in another couple of years, they can't be in school."
The biggest cost for the Des Moines program is busing all public school students to one center. However, Hocks said the Columbia district could do some creative thinking, possibly even starting one block of the school day for newcomers at Hickman High School.