Raleigh, N.C. — Hispanics are the fastest-growing ethnic population in North Carolina. They are also dropping out of school at a high rate.
In Wake County, 17 percent of high school dropouts are Hispanic, but a new English language boot camp aims to reduce that ratio.
“They may not have the support at home to keep them in school. The parents may not know English and probably can't help their child as much,” student Eduardo Rocha said.
Some of last year's 300 Hispanic dropouts said the only academic support they had was from their Wake County English-as-a-Second-Language teachers.
“These are students that are really going to fall behind because they have to learn English, but have to engage in a standard course of study,” English-as-a-Second-Language program director Tim Hart said.
To reduce the number of dropouts, the Wake County Public School System plans to start an ESL Academy at Cary, Garner and Wakefield high schools.
The program would offer nearly all-day English instruction, instead of the one-hour ESL classes currently offered.
Regulations under the federal No Child Left Behind program require ESL students to take the same end-of-grade and end-of-course tests as other students.
School officials liken the ESL Academy to a language boot camp, funded with federal money.
The goal is to keep Hispanic students in school.
“If they're going to be productive students, productive citizens and most likely living here, they need to have the skills of reading and writing English so that they can be productive in our society,” Hart said.
Rocha is planning to attend Greensboro College.
“What I intend to major in is U.S. history and education,” he said.
School officials hope the ESL Academy will help other students follow in Rocha's footsteps.
The ESL program is slated to start in August.
Cary, Garner and Wakefield high schools were chosen as test sites because of their high ESL populations and willingness to try out the program.