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Where Education and Assimilation Collide

Written By: Youki on March 14, 2009 No Comment

In-depth New York Times article on English language instruction for foreign-born students.  A few excerpts:

WOODBRIDGE, Va. — Walking the halls of Cecil D. Hylton High School outside Washington, it is hard to detect any trace of the divisions that once seemed fixtures in American society.

Two girls, a Muslim in a headscarf and a strawberry blonde in tight jeans, stroll arm in arm. A Hispanic boy wearing a Barack Obama T-shirt gives a high-five to a black student with glasses and an Afro. The lanky homecoming queen, part Filipino and part Honduran, runs past on her way to band practice. The student body president, a son of Laotian refugees, hangs fliers about a bake sale.

But as old divisions vanish, waves of immigration have fueled new ones between those who speak English and those who are learning how.

Walk with immigrant students, and the rest of Hylton feels a world apart. By design, they attend classes almost exclusively with one another. They take separate field trips. And they organize separate clubs.

“I am thankful to my teachers because the little bit of English I am able to speak, I speak because of them,” Amalia Raymundo, from Guatemala, said during a break between classes. But, she added, “I feel they hold me back by isolating me.”


Across the country, politics is never far from the schoolhouse door. Arizona, California and Massachusetts adopted English-only education policies that limited bilingual services. By contrast, school districts in Georgia and Utah have recruited teachers from Mexico to work with their swelling Latin American populations.


Education experts estimate that it takes the average learner of English at least two years of study to hold conversations, and five to seven years to write essays, understand a novel or explain scientific processes at the level of their English-speaking peers.

High schools, the last stop between adolescence and adulthood, do not have that kind of time. Getting students to graduation often means catching them up to a field that has a 15-year head start.

[read the full article]

The article also includes interactive multimedia:

Immigration Explorer:


New to English:


Diversity in the Classroom:


Follow-up: “The Best Ways to Teach Young Newcomers” – discussions on several key issues and their impact on English Language instruction.

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