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/.

Title IX Awareness

When we began this project, we looked around at the UMBC community and asked ourselves what every activist asks themselves: what is our community in need of to make it better? Around October of 2018, three brave women joined together and filed a class action lawsuit against UMBC for the way they were treated during their respective Title IX cases by the Title IX program and UMBC police officers. It sparked outrage and multiple protests across campus, and eventually led to the Student Advisory Committee to be created to hold UMBC accountable for the change they vowed to make. Combine this with the Harvey Weinstein allegations, the #MeToo movement, and the Brett Kavanaugh hearing, and we knew what our topic had to be about. We were all disturbed by the previous year’s events, and decided to do something to educate students about Title IX policies and procedures, how to file a complaint, and who students can go to to report their own cases or help their friends report.

Early on in this activism project, we knew we had to poll the student population to see how much they knew about Title IX, and the results were not positive.

Sixty-two students across several student organizations participated in the survey. While 95% of students said that they had heard of Title IX, only 44% were able to accurately describe Title IX in their own words. One third (32%) had heard of Title IX but could not describe it, while 19% were able to somewhat describe Title IX. Between the third that had heard of Title IX but could not describe it and of the 19% that could somewhat describe it, 32% described only Title VII, or both Title VII and Title IX. Most students could not locate the Title IX office and coordinator – 82% said they did not know where the Title IX office was located, while 16% were able to state which building the office was located in, but only one student was able to state which building and which floor the office was located on. Lastly, 73% of the students stated that if they or a friend needed to file a complaint, they did not know how to do so.

A little more than half (57%) of students said they had heard of the term ‘responsible employee,’ however, when asked to list who qualified as a responsible employee on campus, only 45% could list some responsible employees, and only 6% correctly identified that all UMBC faculty/staff are responsible employees unless they are specifically designated as confidential or quasi-confidential. When asked if they knew where to go for support resources, 58% of students indicated they knew where to obtain support resources, and 42% said they did not know where to obtain support resources. Of the 58% who said they knew of support resources, only a subset could identify at least one support resource – 32% listed the Women’s Center, 27% listed the Title IX office/Coordinator/website, 11% listed We Believe You, and 10% listed the Counseling Center.

If you’re as shocked by these statistics as we were, good. These statistics only make is that much more clear that Title IX awareness and education is so important and crucial for students to learn about in college, as well as for universities to properly respond to allegations with the respect and dignity the victims deserve. Students need to know this basic information so that if and/or when something happens to themselves or their friends, they know the steps to take without having to search for hours about. Students deserve to know their rights.


Armed with all of this information and the responses to the anonymous Google survey, we got to work. Since social media is so prevalent in our society today, and is the usually best way to get people interested, our first step was to create a social media account where this information could be shared with as many people as we could find. One of our group members created our instagram page, @titleixtruths.umbc, where we advertise Women’s Center events, post real statistics we found, quotes to inspire survivors, and promote our survey as well as our website. As of this post, we have 129 followers. Next, we thought it would be best to create a website that compiled all of the information we thought students needed to know, like an FAQ section about Title IX specific to UMBC, different articles about Title IX, etc. The website is linked below. The other reason for creating this website is so we could put it on our posters, which were distributed on campus bulletin boards and bathrooms.

I’d say that we’ve accomplished a lot in the past few months! What worked for us was splitting up tasks according to our members’ individual strengths, and constantly checking in with each other to see where we were. We didn’t run into anything that didn’t work, however if we had more time and could do things differently, we would have also made pamphlets to distribute around campus. Overall, we think our group worked really well together.

We’ve all learned about our relationship to activism, and how we see ourselves as activists. We are all very different people with different backgrounds, but when we talked about it, we realized that we did like being active in our activism, and that we all saw ourselves as activists. At the beginning, we all believed that activism had to be this big thing with rallies and microphones and banners, but that’s simply not the case. Some of us are more comfortable with online activism, whereas others are more than happy to speak out about the issues that matter to them. We learned that activism is different for everyone, but as long as you’re doing something to help your community and makes a positive impact, any act – big or small – is welcome and appreciated.

Some extra links to educate yourself on Title IX practices and procedures, as well as more statistics:

https://titleixtruths.wixsite.com/titleixtruths

https://www.instagram.com/titleixtruths.umbc/

https://web.stanford.edu/group/maan/cgi-bin/?page_id=297

STEM Inequity

Education in STEM

Throughout this semester I worked with first graders at a low-income Baltimore elementary school with the aim of piquing interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education. The decision of focusing on STEM education was influenced mainly by my own experiences. I went to a low-income high school with a large minority population but with few resources. There weren’t a wide variety of advanced placement (AP) courses available to me due to the lack of student interest and qualified educators. In fact one teacher even admitted to not knowing what she was doing for our AP US History course! Continue reading

Passport Books

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Passport Books was not able to make a strong, visible, impact on the campus. Time management, organization, and a group of committed people are necessary for the organization to be as successful as it can.

Upcoming school work, projects, and life events also affected the process of establishing Passport Books. Activism is a physically and emotionally draining lifestyle. It is overwhelming because there are several great ideas, excitement about what could be, and trying to inspire people to be as excited as you are. Research is also an important factor because the people you work with must also understand the purpose of the project or movement you are trying to bring to life.

Continue reading

An Activist for Students with Intellectual Disabilities

An Activist for Students with Intellectual Disabilities

 

My goal this spring semester 2015 is to actively participate as an activist for young adults with intellectual disabilities (IDs), in an academic environment. I will work to fight for equal opportunity for education and employment for people with intellectual disabilities, as part of my life long journey as an activist for people with intellectual and learning disabilities. Accordingly, my Gender and Women’s Studies 200: Studies in Feminist Activism activist project is working with young adults with intellectual disabilities in the SUCCESS program at University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), as a Practicum 096 intern Dinner Peer. Continue reading

World of Sociology!

Well this semester has flown by! Although this was my final course in completing my minor for Gender Studies I did not really know what to expect. Initially I thought we would be focusing on activist movements covering a variety of gender related issues, however this course (and this assignment in particular) has really allowed me to branch out and work towards things I am passionate about. Before I started this class I had intentions of improving certain structures in the SOCY 101 class I assist with. Learning about activism has given me the framework to develop my ideas and fortunately my initial proposal has taken shape. Continue reading