Monday, May 9, 2016

Give Me a Sign

When I read this I thought well if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere and that applies in many ways.

After my disastrous month at the bi-lingual school in Seattle, I came to the conclusion that the only way around this is through the use of American Sign Language. By getting all the kids to be able to communicate in a simple way that eliminates punctuation, tense and the other associated problems with learning a new language while simultaneously learning curriculum on a subject, this seemed to be the answer. And that was confirmed to me by a young woman in another school who for a class project interviewed her mother. Her mother came from Vietnam and struggled with all that comes from immigrating to a new place so instead of learning English at first she learned sign language. From there she could at least communicate and as her English language skills grew, her confidence grew and the opportunities to succeed in this new country did as well but it all came from learning ASL.

In our conversation I shared with this young woman the problems I saw at the world school and how it is impossible to teach several different language learners with no support while teaching them math when many of them are often illiterate in their own language or have developmental issues that cannot be diagnosed due to the inability to communicate which further frustrates them and leads to further problems and more adjustments and issues. She said her mother still uses it when she sees deaf people and can act as a translator for them so it all works. Irony CBS Sunday Morning did a story on Starbucks Barista who learned enough to communicate with one of her customers just so he could get the same experience as everyone else.

Imagine everyone speaking the same language, without frustration or confusion and yet in silence. There is something to be said about the value of silence when one is both teaching and learning. The ability to focus, to concentrate or simply relax is enormous. When kids are vying for attention is often a distraction because they are afraid, confused or frustrated and without the skill set of language is akin to being in a roomful of 2 year olds. Nothing works when you cannot communicate and unless you are able to fully immerse a student into English it is a day to day struggle. Add to that the family members at home that cannot help nor facilitate that ability. It is a disaster of Titanic proportions.

New York Schools Struggle With New Rules to Help Students Learning English

The New York Times
MAY 8, 2016

In a bright classroom at Public School 160 in Borough Park, Brooklyn, three teachers orbited 28 students, 21 of whom were still learning English.

One teacher, trained to teach English as a new language, drew pictures to go along with words on a whiteboard: a sweater next to “seamstress,” an apple next to “farm.” A table by the door was littered with work sheets about firefighters and teachers that included words in English, Chinese and Uzbek, along with colorful pictures all the third graders could understand.

This is what a classroom for children learning English is supposed to look like according to New York State’s new regulations, which cover everything from how those students are identified to what kinds of teachers they are entitled to.

The reality, however, is trailing far behind.

“I’m telling you, the whole city is out of compliance,” Evelyn DeJesus, a vice president at the United Federation of Teachers, said in a publication put out by the New York City teachers’ union this year. “It’s like the Wild West out there.”

The regulations are a broad effort to improve the academic standing and progress of students learning English, who are far behind their peers. Statewide, only 34 percent of them graduate on time, less than half the rate for those who already speak the language. In New York City, more than 10 percent of students are English language learners.

Shamsun Nahar, who came to the city from Bangladesh in 2013, said her elder son was among those who needed the help: An 18-year-old student at a high school in the Bronx, he still has difficulty with English, which has left him socially isolated and could keep him from graduating on time.

“The whole point of our struggling to be able to come here and raise our family here, to leave everything behind, is primarily because of education,” Ms. Nahar said through a translator at a South Asian organization called DRUM. Yet her son, she said, is “already being left behind.”
Rows of dual-language books sit in a room in P.S. 160. Parents can take them home to read to their children. Credit Jake Naughton for The New York Times

Among the most significant changes is that schools must now have an English language teacher — like the woman drawing pictures at P.S. 160 — in the classroom for part of each week if even one student is learning English. In the past, students could receive English language instruction outside of the classroom, while spending the rest of their time in a regular class trying to puzzle out the words on their own.

Another shift requires schools and districts to create programs in which classes are taught in two languages. These bilingual programs will now be offered to students who are new to the public system, as long as there are enough children in one place who speak the same tongue.

But finding teachers who are both bilingual and licensed in relevant areas can be difficult.

Take Bengali, for example. It is the fourth most common language among pupils learning English in the city’s public schools. But there are only three bilingual Bengali programs in the schools.

“I have been talking to anybody who knows of a teacher who speaks the language so we can recruit,” Milady Baez, a deputy chancellor in the city’s Education Department, said with a hint of desperation. “It is very, very difficult.”

Ms. DeJesus, of the teachers’ union, said she thought almost every city school needed to hire one or two teachers, which would put the numbers required in the “thousands.”

And the new rules came with very little in the way of resources — $1 million for the entire state, which has left schools scrambling.

Angelica Infante-Green, a deputy commissioner at the state’s Education Department, said she did not yet know how many more teachers were needed.
Margaret Russo, the principal of P.S. 160, said meeting the new state requirements was “a challenge for us.” Credit Jake Naughton for The New York Times

“There is a shortage; we do understand there is a shortage,” Ms. Infante-Green said. “This is the first year of the regulation and we’re not looking to sanction anyone this year, but we expect people to be on track,” she continued. “We expect kids to be getting as much of what they’re entitled to as possible.”

The administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, has started 88 bilingual programs and hopes to offer at least 50 more beginning in fall 2017, Ms. Baez said. The city plans to spend $40 million to meet the new requirements in the next school year.

Both city and state education officials said they were working with colleges and education schools to try to recruit more language teachers and, in some cases, paying to get teachers licensed. But the shortage has been building for years. Education officials and family advocates say that as large failing schools were closed and replaced with smaller schools during the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, many bilingual programs disappeared because schools no longer had the number of students necessary to sustain them.

Union rules are also a hurdle: If teachers switch licenses to become English language specialists, they lose their seniority, which could make them vulnerable when a school trims its staff. City education and union officials say they are discussing ways to change that.

At P.S. 160, more than 1,000 of its 1,400 students are classified as learning English. Most speak one of several Chinese dialects, but a potpourri of other languages are spoken as well, including Uzbek, Russian, Urdu and Arabic. One third grader, whose formal schooling has been inconsistent, speaks Portuguese and Toisanese, a Chinese dialect.

Yet P.S. 160 is probably far ahead of many schools because it had been meeting some of the requirements before they came into effect. Teachers of English as a new language were integrated into general education classes, with more than 10 of them already on staff. The school also had a full-time staff member coordinating the English language efforts.

Margaret Russo, the school’s principal, said P.S. 160 still had to hire five teachers of English as a new language to comply with the regulations.

“We were in a good place when this came down,” Ms. Russo said, “and it was still a challenge for us.”

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