The Inequalities Facing Non-English Speaking Students in U.S. Schools

This past semester, I volunteered at Hillcrest Elementary School. I worked as a volunteer with first grade students who did not speak English as their first language. At the beginning of the semester, I spent most of my time at Hillcrest working with two girls who had recently moved from predominately Spanish-speaking countries. One of the girls knew a fair amount of English while the other girl knew little to no English. I only volunteered at Hillcrest once a week for about an hour with the girls, and I never felt that I made a dent when trying to teach them English through reading and writing activities. However, about halfway through the semester, the two girls began to work with a language specialist. They would go off privately with the specialist teacher and I wouldn’t see them at all for some of my visits. Though I missed working with them, I counted this as a victory for them because I am not at all qualified to teach children how to read and write, let alone children who don’t even speak the language they are trying to learn. While I had not directly advocated for these students through protests or reaching out to a higher authority (I acted more as a passive activist) , the fact that the school needed volunteers (such as myself) at all showed that these students were prevalent enough that a specialist had to be brought in to help them catch up to the other students in their age group. This action of bringing in special English teachers is an important stride for the non-English speaking students in U.S. schools. It illustrates that teachers and parents have been heard and are receiving the scholastic help that is necessary for their children to succeed academically and eventually in the work-force.

Nevertheless, there are still issues that arise with this new form of aiding students who do not speak English as their first language. The students are still not advancing as much as they should be with their language skills with the special English teacher. About a month and a half after the two first grade-age girls had started working with the specialist, I again spent some time with them, playing a letter association game. Neither of the girls had improved very much since the beginning of the semester. The girl that spoke English fairly well was doing well with the letters (but still missing a few of them like at the beginning of the semester), yet the girl that knew no English at the beginning of the semester still could not tell me the majority of the letters. She couldn’t even form a full sentence in English to talk to me. I soon learned why she still was not improving her language skills when the teaching assistant asked the girl who knew more English to translate for this girl who barely knew English. While the girls must have long sessions with the specialist everyday, they were not retaining the knowledge they learned because their own teachers were not enforcing it at school, and I do not believe they spoke English at home either. In order for there to be an effective school system for these non-English speaking students, the lessons they learn at school must be implemented during all parts of the school day and even at home, if possible. Hillcrest actually has many online resources for Spanish-speaking students that may be helpful for students and parents alike to learn English together. Without a more vigorous approach to helping these students learn English, they will not only fall behind in their language skills but also academically in other subjects and in making friends who predominately speak English.

Reflecting back on my volunteering and passive activism at Hillcrest this last semester, I am a bit disappointed in the lack of change I enacted at my service site. While I know I helped the teacher of the class I worked in, I feel that the two girls that are learning English will face many challenges in the future in both their academics as well as their social lives because they are not learning English quickly or effectively. I am not satisfied with my passive activist approach and I wish to do more to help these girls. Next time, I would most likely still volunteer because then I would have hands-on experiences with the children and see where the improvement to the current curriculum is needed. However, I would also work with families and students outside of the classroom by providing more resources for children and parents to learn English. There is only so much learning that the school could fit in a school day, so I would probably push for an after-school program for the students who need the most help or just want to improve their language skills. Lastly, I would also call educators and state legislators to tailor the curriculum so it can fit the student and provide him or her with the best possible education for them.

Photo Credit:

“Hillcrest Elementary.” Home – Hillcrest Elementary, hillcrestes.ss3.sharpschool.com/.

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Only One of the Many

10 Things the US Government Got Right (And Promptly Ruined) - America’s public schools are overwhelmingly financed through the collection of property taxes. That means that poor neighborhoods equal low property values, which equals low spending on public schools.

Riverview Elementary School is a Title I school, in which most students come from low-income families and receive federal funding. More than 95% of students receive federal funding at Riverview. Though Riverview receives federal funding, the school’s academic performance is inadequate like most other public schools that are Title I. To show Riverview’s poor academic performance, I have researched their third-grade class Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) Language Arts test scores:

  • 6% of students did not expectations on PARCC
  • 2% of students partially met expectations on PARCC
  • 5% of students approached expectations on PARCC
  • 6% of students met expectation on PARCC
  • Less than 5% of students exceeded expectation on PARCC

So, only about 24.6% of students performed well on the test while 78.3% of students did not.

Riverview PARCC

Now, I am not saying we need to teach students to perform well on tests, but why are students at low-income community schools doing worse than other students at high-income community schools?

At Severna Park Elementary School, a high-income community public school in Anne Arundel County, the PARCC test scores are:

  • Less than 5% not meeting expectations
  • Less than 5% of students partially meeting expectations
  • 4% of students approaching expectations
  • 3% of students meeting expectations
  • 1% of students exceeding expectations

Severna Park PARCC

The majority of students at Severna Park Elementary School are white and the majority of students are African-American at Riverview Elementary Schools with a large Spanish community.

Severna Park Race and Ethnicity

Race and Ethnicity at Riverview

These statistics are important to look at because they show us that we have an unequal public-school system here in the United States of America. An unequal education is established by a student’s family socio-economic background, race and ethnicity, academic performance, and by the resources provided to the students.

In late August of 2017, I decided I wanted to do service-learning at the Shriver-Center at UMBC. In October, I became a teacher’s assistant at Riverview Elementary School for a third-grade class where I helped my students build strong literacy skills, while building positive relationships with them.

In the third-grade class that I helped assist, there were six students below reading grade-level. One of my students approached me and said that she didn’t like reading her books, because they were too easy for her. I then read ono-on-one with her to see where she was at with her reading ability and I found that she stumbles on some words, but overall, she reads efficiently. I then had her choose a chapter book for us to read together while I helped her sound out the words she didn’t know and asked her questions about the book to make sure she understood what she was reading. In addition, I took notes on the story, so when I would read with her the next time, she would not forget what happened and would understand the story better.

I also found that my other students below reading grade-level were reading books that were unchallenging and I also sat down with them individually to read with them one-on-one. Unfortunately, I could not do this every time I volunteered at Riverview because of their schedule and the major projects they had to do. I think having more time at my service-site would have benefited my students more and would have helped me improve their academic abilities. However, I did find that having my students read out loud and tracking what they are readings is a lot better than them reading on i-ready, a website that assists students in learning how to spell and sound out words.

In addition to working with my students become better readers, I also worked with them to become better writers. Some of my students struggled with structuring their sentences and paragraphs, or even writing down their ideas in a coherent way. I found only helping them structure their paragraphs with transition words and correcting misspelled words, assured me that they were thinking on their own.

I wanted to volunteer at Riverview Elementary School to gain teaching skills, because I planned on doing Teach for Americaafter graduation. However, my students showed me that I want to make a career out of bringing an equal education to all children in the United States. Volunteering at Riverview, helped me notice the discrimination in low-income community schools more clearly. It helped me see the ignorance to the issue and that some people don’t know what a Title I school is.

If I were to volunteer again to help students thrive in their academics, I would definitely go to my service-site more than two days a week. I also would communicate more with the teacher to see what I can do to have a greater effect on the student’s academic performance. I would want to work more ono-one-one with my students below reading grade-level to see through chapter books with them.

Through doing this activism project, I learned that I will continue this work throughout the course of my life. I learned that feminist activism does not only have to be about fighting for women’s rights but fighting for equality for all those who are marginalized. An unequal education prevents, both girls and boys, from achieving gender equality. In addition to, it cripples their right as a human being to have a quality education, one that is not affected by their socio-economic background. In order for women and men to be equal, they all need to be equal through the social, economic, and political domains.

I also learned that in order to make real change in the world, we cannot think practical. For instance, charter schools and financial assistance are only going to prolong the problem, they are not the solution to solving the issue. We need to establish an equal education for students altogether in the United Sates without the need of financial assistance and the need to open up charter schools in low-income areas. We need more teachers, we need after-school programs, we need to give all academic subjects equal value, and we need to give students the opportunity to be taught humanity.

https://datausa.io/

http://reportcard.msde.maryland.gov/

https://www.usnews.com/opinion/knowledge-bank/articles/2017-05-08/how-charter-schools-improve-traditional-district-education

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/education/bs-md-ci-poverty-undercount-20180202-story.html

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/readersrespond/bs-ed-rr-school-counselors-letter-20180305-story.html

 

 

Beyond Take Back the Night: Continuing the Conversation about Sexual Violence on Campus

Beyond Take Back the Night: Continuing the Conversation about Sexual Violence on Campus

Sexual assault is a hot topic right now. We have the #MeToo movement, brought about by Harvey Weinstein’s misconduct in the workplace, as well as a slew of other movements addressing the same issue. Just this week, Bill Cosby was found guilty on all three counts of aggravated indecent assault and could be facing up to 30 years in prison. These movements have permeated popular culture, at times becoming the focal point of major broadcasting stations, but somehow they have been unable to change, or even shift, the culture in higher education.

So many students are affected by sexual violence. With a problem this large, we should make it our mission to protect them. We should arm them with information, not only about how to prevent these things from happening, but also about what to do in the event of a violation. Where do you turn if you were assaulted? What do you do if it happens to a friend? Are other students facing the same problems and, if so, how do they feel about it? I wanted to address these questions in my activism project, and I believe I was able to do so.

Continue reading

UMBC Gender Inclusive Housing

When we first started this project, we knew very little about UMBC’s Gender Inclusive housing option. The information available on it was scarce and outdated. In addition, both our individual experiences and the experiences we’d heard about from others who had applied for Gender Inclusive Housing (GIH) in the past made us concerned for the situation. We’d heard that RAs and those in Living Learning Communities were not allowed to participate in Gender Inclusive Housing. We experienced being assigned an apartment instead of getting to choose where we live like those in standard housing. We were told that someone’s Gender Inclusive Housing application was denied. It seemed to us as though many aspects of the Gender Inclusive housing process were at best, inconvenient, and at worst, outright discriminatory. Continue reading

The UMBC Counseling Center

For my activism, I hoped to investigate an issue that has bothered me for a while. I felt as if mental health services were not accessible enough to UMBC students. My sophomore, I was going through a hard time, and I really thought it was time to reach out to the UMBC counseling center. However, when it came down to it, it took me over a week to build up the courage to make an appointment. Why? Because a phone call is the only option student have to make an appointment. I couldn’t wrap my head around this because nowadays everything is done over email or some app. One thing I’ve found with everyone I know with anxiety is that they hate talking on the phone. I know I do. When people with anxiety need the counseling services, they may feel as if they’re inaccessible because there is not a service that caters to their needs. So when I got the opportunity for this activism project, I wanted to do something that mattered to me.

Originally I wanted to do some type of campaign to encourage the counseling center to create an online appointment service. However, eventually it occurred to me that if they don’t have one yet there must be a reason. Here, I decided that the best course of action would be to talk to the director, Dr. Bruce Herman. After weeks of trying to find an appointment slot that work for the both of us, we finally had a very productive talk. I wanted to know about the counseling center as a whole. Dr. Herman also told me that he thinks people are starting to utilize the center’s services more now. Finally, we got to talk about the appointment services. It was really eye opening.

Now, I was facing another challenge. Dr. Herman and I discussed the pros and cons of implementing an online appointment making service. He told me that the main reason such a service doesn’t exist currently is because they would be unable to determine the severity of the situation. With phone calls or in person interaction, the employees at the counseling center are able to provide more prompt help. However, I brought up to him my experience with social anxiety. I was happy to see that he took this seriously. I remembered how, in class, we talked about how sometimes you have to work with your enemy to make change. Not to say that Dr. Herman or the counseling center was my enemy, but I never would have found out the reason why they decided against online services up to this point.

I also never would have found out that the center with be revamping their website to make it more user-friendly. Dr. Herman mentioned that he appreciated me bringing his attention to some things that they may have not considered originally. Now, they may be considering incorporating an online appointment service when the new website is implemented.

The biggest thing I learned from this project is that activism can be small. I kept reminding myself of the definition we came up with in class: that activism is living your beliefs. I fought my own anxiety (and my overwhelming school and work schedule); this was activism for me. Also, I got to sit down and talk about something that mattered to me: making mental health services more accessible to my peers. Though I may not have made the difference this semester, I hope that my views will be taken into consideration in the future of the counseling center after I’m gone. The project was a little more small-scale than I had originally hoped, but I still think I made a difference by simply implanting an idea.

I also encourage everyone to checkout the services that are already available online: http://counseling.umbc.edu/services/

Also, keep an eye out for the new-and-improved site that will also be more entwined with University Health Services (UHS).