Are we failing our bilingual students by language immersion?

There has been a few news items about bilingual teaching and the change to ELL  lessons where the student is unable to access prior experiences via their bilingual teacher.  It is very refreshing to read this from Helen Marques who has been through this process and who can also give such dramatic feedback about the difference these changes have made. I have highlighted in bold the items that I believe to be true from my classroom experiences.  The biggest impression I am left with is the drop out rate when their safety net within the classroom is removed…..is this what we are doing to our learners?

http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120727/OPINION/207270306

Creativity will develop English language learners

As the executive director of the Immigrants’ Assistance Center Inc., I feel obligated to express my deep concern regarding the high school dropout rate among students for whom English is not the first language.

In 1971, the bilingual education program was implemented. Although it was not a perfect model, it created a safety net for English Language Learners. Classes were taught by bilingual teachers so that when students could not understand the lessons, teachers were able to explain in the students’ native language. This encouraged learning by easing their frustration and promoting confidence.

As a product of bilingual education, I know how important it is to have that support system in place in the classroom. The bilingual program was eliminated in 2001 and replaced with the English Immersion Program. This removed that safety net and ELL students started to fall through the cracks of the educational system. That is exactly what has been happening for several years in the New Bedford school system.

In 2011, the high school dropout rate for English Language Learners was 63.3 percent in four years. That is an alarming statistic. I am aware that a group of more than 36 teachers and educators recently authored a plan for revising the education of ELLs in New Bedford. Three school committee members voted to urge the superintendent to move forward on the plan: John Fletcher, Joaquim Livramento and Marlene Pollock. I am grateful to these members for standing up for an often overlooked population.

In addition, I support the two proposals for innovation schools, Renaissance Community School for the Arts and Esperanza School of Language and Culture. They both address the needs of ELL students and all of the children of New Bedford.

New Bedford has a great opportunity to move forward by making changes for the benefit of all of the children of New Bedford and to make sure that they have the educational tools that they need in order to succeed.

Helena S. Marques

Executive Director of Immigrants’ Assistance Center Inc.

New Bedford