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Nueva Carolina: The New Language of Learning

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

Allison and Bryant Rico are students atSelmaElementary School. Hena Rico says her children would not have thisopportunity in her native Honduras.

"It is very poor over there. [That] is why we camehere, 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 beenin a school before, and with a lot of people andchildren," she says. At that time, only one teacher at the school spokeSpanish.

A decade ago, a Hispanic child in theJohnston CountySchool 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 manysituations, because many have never gone toschool," says Selma Elementary Principal Jerry Stevens.

The state has a funding formula for English as aSecond Language (ESL), but the program has never beenfully funded. Schools have never had enoughstaff and resources to meet the needs ofHispanic children and all the other children inclasses with them.

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

When Hispanic students acquire language, theiropportunities for success increases tenfold.

In Charlotte, there is aprogram where Hispanic students learn English and American students learnSpanish. The program is working so well, the state is taking a secondlook.

Five years ago,CollinswoodElementary Schoolincentral Charlotte began what is called a "Dual Immersion"Spanish program.Beginning in kindergarten, every student learns to read and spell inSpanish.

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

Overall, 88 percent of Collinswood students testat or above grade level. Every fifth grade acedthe end-of-grade math test.

"The added benefits are that you're able to thinkcognitively at a higher level and it's going tohave a positive outcome on academicachievement," says Collinswood Principal Maria Petrea.

Wake CountyandChapelHill/Carrboro Schoolsare planning immersionprograms of their own, Thestatehopes toreplicate the success in five pilot programs next year.

Reporter: Yvonne SimonsPhotographer: Edward Wilson

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