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  1. #1
    Senior Member
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    Mar 2006
    Santa Clarita Ca

    45 percent of students unable to speak English well

    Last Updated: 9:04 am | Wednesday, May 23, 2007
    School centers debate
    45 percent of students unable to speak English well
    HAMILTON - Kids in the hallways of this school chatter in Spanish and English. Most of the staff is bilingual. Many classes include interpreters, and signs use both languages to direct visitors to the office.

    Jefferson Elementary could be ground zero in America's escalating debate over immigration and its impact on schools.

    Here, 45 percent of the school's 505 kindergartners through sixth-graders cannot speak English proficiently. In fact, Hamilton City Schools has the highest percentage of any big-city Ohio district of students learning English as a second language. Almost all of those students are Hispanic.

    In Hamilton schools, the growing Hispanic population means that 550 of 8,956 students districtwide require remedial language instruction each school day.

    Schools are required by law to enroll the students, be they legal immigrants or not.

    • Data Center: Districts/Students with 'limited English proficiency'

    Hamilton schools are spending more than $120,000 this year in federal government funds to pay for interpreters, bilingual dictionaries and related services. The district says it does not have an estimate of local property tax money devoted to special services for Spanish-speaking students.

    Federally required report cards that rate schools on academic success add to the pressure.

    That's because any child in the U.S. for at least a year must participate in proficiency testing, whether they've been well-taught in English or not.

    In Butler County, where political debates about immigration run hot, some say the Hamilton school situation reflects a large and growing taxpayer burden.

    "It makes everything more difficult for everybody - the schools, the courts, the fire and the police departments. I can't hire enough Spanish translators," says Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones, the county's most outspoken critic of illegal immigration.

    "Somebody has to pay for all this, and we as taxpayers are footing the bill."

    Yet others see benefits from the influx of Spanish speakers. While adults argue about costs and policy, some English-speaking students are learning new things from their Spanish-speaking classmates.

    "I have friends from a different country, and you get to learn a different language," says Rachelle Dixon, a non-Hispanic white student at Jefferson Elementary.


    In general, the only requirement for access to public education is proof of residency in the district.

    "The law is that anyone who walks in through the door, we have to educate them," says Joni Copas, Hamilton schools spokeswoman.

    Also by law, even non-English speakers are required to take state proficiency tests if they have been in the United States for more than a year.

    "The expectation is that these students should be fully proficient in the English language as well as reading, mathematics, writing, science and social studies in three years," says Barbara Fuerbacher, associate superintendent for Hamilton Schools.

    Preparing Spanish-speaking students for testing isn't simple.

    "This expectation is taxing on district resources, especially at times of testing," Fuerbacher says. "Translators, scribes and bilingual dictionaries are necessary as well as individualized (test) administrations for many students."

    Hamilton schools are earmarked to receive about $120,640 in federal funding in 2007 - or about $200 per non-English-speaking student - to help cover language-related expenses, according to the Ohio Department of Education. Local taxpayers pick up the bill for any costs beyond that.

    Making the task tougher is that 100 percent of Jefferson Elementary students are so poor they qualify for federal free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch programs, principal Mary Anne Hughes says.

    Yet despite these obstacles, Jefferson has earned an "effective" academic rating, the state's second-highest category, which is the same as the entire district.

    "We are able to do what we do with a very large Hispanic student population," Hughes says.

    And students are trying hard to learn.

    Ruben Sanchez is a sixth-grader whose family moved to Butler County from Mexico.

    He credits Jefferson's extensive language instruction for his academic success.

    "It's been very important to me that I learn how to communicate with my teachers," Ruben says.


    Sylvia Bowling is a 50-year-old resident of Hamilton. She attended Jefferson as a child, as did her children. She says she is concerned about her changing neighborhood.

    "I have a Mexican son-in-law," Bowling says. "But there are too many immigrants who are here illegally in this neighborhood. Every other house is full of them."

    Sheriff Jones is one of the nation's most vocal critics of illegal immigration.

    He has sent bills for incarcerating illegal immigrants to the federal government, pushed to get his deputies more involved in immigration busts and recently turned down an invitation to appear with Sen. John McCain because Jones considers the presidential candidate soft on immigration reform.

    Learning that Hamilton schools have Ohio's largest concentration of non-English speakers "doesn't surprise me at all," Jones says.

    "Hamilton is the county seat, and it seems to be where a lot of these issues are coming up. It's a mess, and it's destroying the school system."

    Hamilton City Police Chief Neil Ferdelman also says he wasn't surprised by the report about the Hamilton schools.

    "That is a change we have seen coming for about five years," Ferdelman says.

    "It's been a paradigm shift for us."

    Just a few years ago, the city didn't have any officers who could speak Spanish.

    Now Hamilton has two officers who are fluent in Spanish.

    The department also has joined a program with other Butler County cities that allows them to share interpreters who work via cell-phone conference calls, even at crime scenes.

    "But I think things will change again in about 10 years," he says. "These children will learn the language, and we won't have these problems."
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  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    reno, nev
    That is why our schools are failing. Teacher has to take time away from English speaking students to help those who are not proficient in English to understand.

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