Local News

Nueva Carolina: The New Language of Learning

Posted April 23, 2001 7:59 a.m. EDT

— A rapid influx of Hispanic students is straining North Carolina's education system. However, there is a remedy that is working to help all students.

Allison and Bryant Rico are students atSelma Elementary School. Hena Rico says her children would not have this opportunity in her native Honduras.

"It is very poor over there. [That] is why we came here, to give a better life to our children," she says.

When Allison started school four years ago, she did not speak English.

"It was very scary, because I had never been in a school before, and with a lot of people and children," she says. At that time, only one teacher at the school spoke Spanish.

A decade ago, a Hispanic child in theJohnston County School Systemwould have been unusual. Today, it is common. Ready or not, schools must adjust.

"The reality is that they come to us very ill-prepared in many situations, because many have never gone to school," says Selma Elementary Principal Jerry Stevens.

The state has a funding formula for English as a Second Language (ESL), but the program has never been fully funded. Schools have never had enough staff and resources to meet the needs of Hispanic children and all the other children in classes with them.

"It is a stress," says teacher Anne Koebley. "We have anaccountabilityto have children reading at a certain level at the end of a year. To get the Hispanics up to where they need to be is quite a challenge."

When Hispanic students acquire language, their opportunities for success increases tenfold.

In Charlotte, there is a program where Hispanic students learn English and American students learn Spanish. The program is working so well, the state is taking a second look.

Five years ago,Collinswood Elementary Schoolin central Charlotte began what is called a "Dual Immersion" Spanish program. Beginning in kindergarten, every student learns to read and spell in Spanish.

"In Spanish, we do math and social studies and science. But then in English, we do literacy and writing," says student Daniel Stribling.

Overall, 88 percent of Collinswood students test at or above grade level. Every fifth grade aced the end-of-grade math test.

"The added benefits are that you're able to think cognitively at a higher level and it's going to have a positive outcome on academic achievement," says Collinswood Principal Maria Petrea.

Wake CountyandChapel Hill/Carrboro Schoolsare planning immersion programs of their own, Thestatehopes to replicate the success in five pilot programs next year.

Reporter: Yvonne Simons Photographer: Edward Wilson