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Un-Shuttering the Beacon
Students with Interrupted Formal Education: Advocacy, Ingenuity and the English Learner Paul DeRienzo City College of New York
Students with Interrupted Formal Education
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Introduction Literature Review Methodology Findings Conclusion Recommendations References
Students with Interrupted Formal Education Introduction My name is Paul DeRienzo and I am well positioned to take on an important study about our public schools. I am a teacher of English as a Second Language the Joseph Rodman Drake or P.S. 48 elementary school in the Hunts Point neighborhood of the Bronx. I am also the parent of two children in the NYC public school system and I have an ongoing interest in the effect of education on our quality of life and the well being of our communities in New York City. I've grown to know and respect many of my students and colleagues and learn about some of the challenges and achievements that have shaped their lives. I came to be interested in Students with Interrupted Formal Education SIFE after learning that several of my students had touching life stories about unusually severe privation in Africa and the Dominican Republic among other poor countries. Others are victims of poor schools in their own country. A student said to me that her first and second grade classes in the Dominican Republic were “chaotic” and that her teachers subjected students to violent corporal punishment. She claimed to me that learning did not occur. Her father in a separate conversation said although his daughter attended class when they moved to the United States the child could not write her own name. The same student has come a long way achieving a 3 in her recent 4th grade ELA test in the New York City school system. Based on this evidence I find that it is possible to bring students with educational gaps to reading and math levels equal or above their peers in this country.
Students with Interrupted Formal Education My main-question was “What are the best practices for teaching SIFE students. What are the indicators of success and failure in school exhibited by students with interrupted educations?” The answer was not what I expected. The best methods for teaching are not in the teachers as they are in the students.
Literature Review Among New York City’s 150,000 students are an estimated 15,100 who have little or no formal schooling and are often performing at low levels compared to their peers on standardized tests. (Medina, J. 2009, January 25). In New York State these students are called SIFE or students with Interrupted Formal Education and are defined by the New York State Department of Education as students who have two years less schooling than their peers or function at least two years below expected grade level. According to the Department of Education (DOE) 56% of SIFE students entered school in grades 3 through 8 and 44% in High School. The top languages among SIFE students mirror the general English Language Learner (ELL) population with the addition of Tibetan and the West African languages of Fulani and Mandingo. Among Spanish speaking SIFE students more than half are from the Dominican Republic, with the other predominant languages including Chinese, Haitian Creole, French and Arabic. (New York City’s Language Learners: Demographics, Summer 2008 New York City Department of Education Office of English Language Learners.) Despite the official designation my research has discovered that in at least one school focusing on students with interrupted education the definition of SIFE is being modified to fit a more complex reality. In order to explore this reality this paper will
Students with Interrupted Formal Education investigate the conflict between the New York State definition of SIFE and the reality faced by teachers who want to include insufficient education as SIFE criteria. The efficacy of Inquiry-based learning vs. High-stakes testing, the special problems presented by students who are undocumented immigrants, the special problems presented by migrant farm workers and the distinction between SIFE and Long Term English Language Learners. Within the NYC School System SIFE students in New York City face many challenges on arrival in our school system. Observers have noted entering a class with SIFE students “the incongruence between the physical maturity of the young people in this class and their immaturity in handling the classroom script and other academic tasks (Garcia, O. 1999). This outcome may be a result of the fact the students enter school already behind with needs that are not usually met by regular English as a second language (ESL) or bilingual programs (Freeman, Y., Freeman, D.E. & Mercuri, S. 2001). One researcher says SIFEs are “the highest of high-risk students (Morse, A. 2005. A Look at immigrant Youth Prospects and promising practices. Washington, D.C. National Conference of State Legislatures). Students with Interrupted Formal Education most often require additional assistance in learning skills many ELLs already have including basic phonetics, decoding skills and sequencing logically in both their home language and English. However, there is hope in several school models that research shows has had an effect on helping SIFE students bridge the gap. Those models are the pullout, the push-in and after school programs (DeCapua, A., Smathers, W. & Lixing, F.T. March, 2007). New York State schools also offer three basic methods for teaching English language Learners, which
Students with Interrupted Formal Education includes the SIFE student population. Those methods are Transitional Bilingual Education, English as a Second Language and Dual Language programs. Parents must choose which program they want for their child, but not every program is available in any one school (NYC DOE 2009.) The growth of the number of students with gaps in their formal schooling is occurring nationwide. Between 1993 and 2004 the number of English Language Learners has increased by 63% (US Department of Education 2005). Civil War, poverty and natural disasters are cited as the major causes for the 101 million school age children around the globe who have been denied an education. (UNICEF, State of the World’s Children. November 2009.) However, in the United States teachers are often limited by laws such as No Child Left Behind in what they can do to meet these challenges. “Unfortunately, highstakes testing… often forces teachers and school administrators to sacrifice creativity and inspiration in teaching and learning for the top-down pressure to coach students to do well on these tests.” (Carlos J. Ovando (Apr. 2001) Beyond "Blaming the Victim": Successful Schools for Latino Students. Educational Researcher, Vol. 30, No. 3 p. 30)
Analysis SIFE are a discreet population of Ells who are differentiated from other low performing students by the circumstances that impeded their education. SIFE students have often come to the United States because of direct need to flee or in search of a better life. The following report will show that SIFE students respond well to nurturing and demanding educational environment and that SIFE students benefit from experiential
Students with Interrupted Formal Education learning and individually tailored assessments and that these students enrich the school environment with their unique stories.
Methodology Studying SIFE students is not an easy task. Despite the challenges I was fortunate to have a SIFE student in my own school who along with her parent responded to questions about the child’s educational background. That student who I call “Y” is nearly 11-years old and came to the school about 2 or 3 years behind her peers in reading and math. I administered several assessments over a period of nearly one year. The student consented to interviews both alone and with her father during the current school year. I spoke at length with PG who is Migrant Education Coordinator of the Oswego, NY BOCES and spoke about migrant education and the challenges of reaching SIFE students in migrant labor camps. I also interviewed a former student who had grown up as part of a migrant family and went on to become an ESL teacher with the Oswego, NY BOCES. I interviewed Principal NV and teacher SM of E Preparatory Academy in the Bronx an ESL focused school in the Bronx. I videotaped my interview with Principal NV and I used the video to type the transcript.
Findings The purpose of this paper was to discover the best practices for teaching English as A Second Language to students with interrupted formal education of SIFE. I find that the jury is still out which is the best method of teaching a SIFE student, but that one characteristic stands out as illustrated by Principal NV who said in selecting teachers she
Students with Interrupted Formal Education looked for someone “Who can be taught, somebody who can grow.” What I found was that the best methods for reaching SIFE students are not found in the methods of teaching but in the commitment and willingness to grow and change in the teachers themselves. The other requirement I found was that teachers must have a desire to reach students who have been marginalized because of their immigration status or poverty.
Student Y Student Y entered my ESL class for the first time during the 2008-2009 school years and again during 2009-2010. She was a shy student who tested at the beginning level on both the Language Assessment Battery-B test and the New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test or NYSESLAT exam. A NYSESLAT test administered in the spring of 2009 showed improvement to the intermediate level still behind the advanced or proficient levels achieved by most of her peers in the same period. Student Y is in 4th grade, but was born in 1998 and is about 2-years older than her peers. Although her cumulative file, the file that follows most students from class to class throughout their education in New York City indicated that the child was SIFE both the Y and her father said there was no actual gap in her education. According to the child’s current teacher Y read at a level at least 2-years behind where she should have been at her age as measured by Rigby assessments used in our school on the at the start of the 20092010 year. But her L-Rigby reading level is actually close behind the average in her class, which is made up of students mostly 2-years younger.
Students with Interrupted Formal Education Y was born in a small town called La Vega in the central Dominican Republic in a rural area in the center of the country where she attended school from 5 to 8 years of age. I asked Y about her school experience before arriving in the United States. She quietly answered yes when I asked her if she felt mistreated in her old school, she also agreed when I asked her if the school was crowded. In a separate interview her father said when the child arrived in the United States “she couldn’t write her own name, could not read and could not really write.” He added that the school was deep in the countryside. Her father R says his daughter “watches American TV especially Hannah Montana,” which is her favorite. He says she came to the United States at age 9 adding that Y “Could not write her own name, could not read, and could not really write. The father says he “doesn’t know about incidents of capital punishment in the Dominican Republic school.” The father also says the child is “not shy at home.” He added that she speaks English with him in the home prompting his daughter to smile and hide her head in her hands. Y says that she lives with her mother, father and siblings including an older sister in a local college. Her sister Y claims has the highest level of education in her family. I asked Y what subjects she found easiest in the Dominican Republic and she answered “art.” I asked her which subject was more difficult and she said “math.” The student also told me that her former school did not teach social science, science or a foreign language. Y says she likes to read. Her current reading level was measured most recently by Rigby assessments at the start of the 2009-2010 year used in her school. She reads at level L, which is close behind the average in her class made up of students mostly 2-years
Students with Interrupted Formal Education younger. But according to her teacher Y also achieved a “3” on her most recent state English Language Arts exam which is above average for a test with a top score of “4” Y says she’s “not sure” if she “likes” New York City. But she says she does like her current school, “Because they were the ones who showed me how to speak English.” Her development shows marked improvement with exposure to a predictable learning environment. She has grown into a healthy athletic young woman whose dream is to become a “model.” Her cognitive development shown by her steady academic progress, despite the challenges of being older than her peers, is apparent in various assessments and in conversations with the student. Her language development as shown in the various assessments done by the state informally by her teachers shows improvement in listening and writing, but challenges in reading and speaking. She’s still shy a reserved in direct conversations and needs prompting. But overall she has become integrated with her class and carries out her assignments. The student has clearly benefited from dedicated and nurturing teachers at her elementary school as well as a stable loving home environment. Although her school follows New York State standards driven methodology with emphasis on basic skills and test prep the child has responded and continues to improve. A good part of that I the dedication of her teachers and their dedication to advocating for their students needs. Teachers, often at the beginning of their careers come to schools in difficult situations and must be advocates for their students or they will fail. The everyday challenges Y’s teachers surmount in helping their students are testimony to their advocacy.
Students with Interrupted Formal Education Migrant Education Another source of ideas for reaching SIFE students are methods forged by groups involved in the education of migrant farm workers and their families. In these areas educators have demonstrated the value of parents, home visits and personal interactions between parents and school personnel in an attempt to create a more democratic and collaborative environment. Migrant students were basically invisible until the advent of The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, but schools have yet to solve the complex educational problems associated with mobility. Migrants have one of the highest dropout rates of any student group in the US due to poverty and the priority of family survival and are at greater risk than other youth in the United States. In grappling with this problem parent involvement has been recognized as a positive force in addressing minority student underachievement. According to PG of the New York State BOCES, English language programs for migrant workers has been impacted by changes in the law. “In the 1990s we had a longer eligibility period1, we had a six-year window where we could really help them. In 1996 they changed the law… Now we have three years. Some of the research says it takes (students) with interrupted education up to 9-years to catch up.” These legislative changes have occurred in an environment of economic dislocation in agriculture where the number of farm workers has been declining as immigration has been curtailed and has shifted from families to individuals looking for employment without the family support systems of the past.
Eligibility period refers to the number of years a migrant worker in New York State can receive funding for English language learning. Paul DeRienzo 11
Students with Interrupted Formal Education According to PG “Some countries you have to start paying for education at a young age so they are unable to afford it and they have to send children as soon as they are old enough often without a family. A 17-year old might come up with an uncle from small towns, there are people who come from the same town and they separate when they get here depending on what work is available.” Often the migrants are living in fear of discovery, deportation and crime because of their illegal immigrant status. One family driving to a New York labor camp from Florida “got targeted and were robbed four times in one year.” Despite these problems migrant workers are strongly motivated to learn English. Many are beginners and PG says “We don’t tie ourselves to any one method.” One program the BOCES uses regularly is called “Living in America,” which stresses ESL themes like citizenship, rights and responsibilities, American government, how to buy a car, report an emergency, use a bank, rent a place to live and other pragmatic tasks. Another popular method is a “topic specific program” where topics such as “I want to buy” become the ESL learning target. Yet another method used to teach migrants is “Total Physical Response,” which is “where students are actually doing things that they learn.” For example “To learn the parts of the body, you say touch your knee and they touch their knee - stand up sit down - they’re following directions.” In the migrant environment with beginning English language learners’ outreach to the population is key. PG of the New York State BOCES relies on home visits “We support with lot of the home visits and advocacy and we provide a couple of lessons a week.” But he adds that being adaptable is key to his strategy whether helping out an older student or maybe back at the school or with the younger children in the classroom
Students with Interrupted Formal Education PG says, “We leave it up to the individual principals and teachers about how they want our tutoring to take place.” V is a graduate student and ESL teacher who has worked for the upstate New York BOCES where she was the daughter of a migrant farm worker. I asked if the migrant program helpful to V and other young people. She replied “For me it was because people reached out to us and especially being Hispanic the migrant education brought us together.” V’s claims reflect the need for community and advocacy in creating the social ties that create the necessary stability for learning to happen. Throughout this research project the theme of stability and predictability has shown through. Whether in the classroom or on the job in the fields, if we want to teach English or any other subject the students must have predictability in their in their learning environment. After finishing college V returned to the BOCES program as a tutor. “I had a partner teacher,” she recounted, “We would go out to the fields at night and ask the guys if we could tutor them in Basic English.” Here V expresses the desire and commitment of the teacher that is another key piece to the teaching methodology puzzle when it comes to SIFE students. To advocate, finding the students where they are and bringing the learning to them. The strength of the BOCES program according to V is that “They are advocates trying to help the undocumented workers,” she continues that “The government is really not willing to assist undocumented workers.” It’s the SIFE students who V says “Are the ones who really suffer and the migrant program provided tutors to try to get the kids up to their level, which if of course very hard.” V says that she “Worked with this one kids that
Students with Interrupted Formal Education was being held back every time he would move around. I worked with him all summer,” adding that “If your not pushing the kids they’re not going to move on.” V described her lessons for the BOCES as “unconventional.” One of the first lessons she taught consisted of dumping everything out of purse, “I’ll never forget it,” says V, “What’s this?” she asked pointing to the different items. In another lesson she brought in a mannequin and in yet another she brought in menus and they pretended to order.” Undocumented workers and other marginal people are not well served in a system that uses their labor behind the scenes while claiming they are law-breakers in public. In some ways teaching these learners is a subversive action, yet we can’t afford to live in a world where potentially millions of people live as outcasts. Yet it’s a small number of dedicated teachers who have the desire to create the stability students strive for. They go out in the field dedicate themselves to helping overcome barriers not to different then the laws that prevented slaves from being educated in the past. There are many difficulties inherent in teaching students in the migrant worker community. There is no book with a set formula and teachers have to become advocates for their students. It’s not enough to teach to the test, but to come up with creative methods to engage and make learning English relevant. It’s not just a matter of convenience but of survival for the SIFE students in this population. An International School E Prep is part of a large New York City high school campus in the Bronx. I interviewed Principal NV in the school’s office. The campus was once one of the largest schools in the city has been partially divided into numerous smaller campuses that still include a large public high school. . Principal NV also detailed the school’s unique
Students with Interrupted Formal Education approach to assessments and her professional take on the NYSESLAT (New York State English as a Second Language Aptitude Test) and other important tests ELLs are required to take by New York State education authorities. Principal NY says she doesn’t spend a lot of time pushing her students to prepare for the NYSESLAT “Because it does not move a student forward… It’s not something that determines their ability to move forward in life. What it does is it determines funding for me E is an “ESL methodology school” that currently has 168 students, 8 teachers and 4 student teachers and according to Principal NV will “grow over four years to 324”. Principal NV says only one of her 23 SIFE students have a true gap in education and she suggests that the term “interrupted” education is not accurate “It really should be insufficient not interrupted education.” “The majority of our kids are kids who were in classes that had a size of 60,” adds Principal NV, “They might have been in school every day, but only for three hours, or kids who are taught in Arabic schools. They are going to school but it’s not in comparison to what our expectations are.” According to Principal NV the expectations at E are high. “We have a cohort of 70 kids… Of those 70 at least 50-52 would be eligible to go into universities.” This answers the question, “what is a SIFE student.” The state of New York defines SIFE as two or more years behind students there own age or two years actual gap in education. Principal NV has been critical of the limitations placed on her school by the state definition. That’s why she prefers to look at SIFE students as those with insufficient rather than interrupted education. Principal NV’s comments show that international
Students with Interrupted Formal Education situations dictate vastly different challenges to educators when those students reach our shores. Challenges that government education authorities are refusing to confront. In context with statement by V of the BOCES that “The government is really not willing to assist undocumented workers” it’s clear that the ultimate responsibility for teaching these SIFE English language learners in with the teachers themselves, they are on their own. What is it that determines this kind of teacher, the teacher who has the desire to teach this population? Principal NV’s criteria for a E Prep teacher is “Someone who first and foremost loves working with teenagers.” She says, “Content is important,” but “equally as important is a teachers ability to reflect on their practice.” Principal NV holds her teachers to high standards “You are a professional and I’m entrusting you with my children” she says “and I expect that you will stop and think about your practice and rethink it and make it better. If you’re not somebody who’s excited about what your doing I don’t want you here.” Conclusion Students who have interrupted formal education are not only a significant portion of all English language learners, but all the students we teach in New York City. The literature shows that SIFE students come to class with needs significantly greater than their peers (Freeman, Y., Freeman, D.E. & Mercuri, S. 2001). The literature claims that our SIFE students are the “highest of high risk students” (Morse, A. 2005). My finding supports the literature’s finding on this point. Student Y for example struggles to make up a deficit of learning that places her two years behind her peers and make it difficult to catch up even among significantly younger students. The advances that Y has made, she is currently at the intermediate level on her latest NYSESLAT test, has come from the
Students with Interrupted Formal Education stability she’s gained from a well organized school with a predictable curriculum. English will have to be a life long learning goal for Y because according to PG of the BOCES it may take “(Students) with interrupted education up to 9-years to catch up.” In the current educational environment mandated by the federal “No Child Left Behind” law where high-stakes testing has become the touchstone for measuring achievement students like Y may be left further behind. High-stakes testing “often forces teachers and school administrators to sacrifice creativity and inspiration in teaching” and submit to “top-down pressure to coach students to do well on these tests.” (Carlos J. Ovando (Apr. 2001) But according to Principal NV even if her students test out the ESL program on the NYSESLAT they continue to get ESL services. Her school’s goals are college preparatory and simply passing a state test is not enough. “There are exams that you need to take,” she says, “but what are the skills that kids need in order to be successful – aside from being successful on the exam – being successful in general.” Some of the most interesting developments in teaching SIFE students have come from the work of teachers dedicated to educating migrant workers. That evidence points to the importance of home visits and parent involvement in education, but systematic research has not been done to specifically address best practices for these students (Lopez G., 2004). BOCES coordinator PG describes his teaching methods “We don’t tie ourselves to any one method. To teach students the English that they need to know to successfully navigate life in the United States. Migrants have one of the highest dropout rates of any student group in the US due to poverty and the priority of family survival and are at greater risk than other youth in the United States (Lopez G., 2004). They don’t have the luxury of passing
Students with Interrupted Formal Education a state proficiency exam, but they need to learn English. The high-stakes testing paradigm that have risen in response to the No Child Left Behind law does not move the student towards a working knowledge of English. That fact tan through my various interviews and is an agreement with Lopez and other writer who question our obsession with testing. Methods like Total Physical Response that taps into the “multiple intelligences” theory of Howard Gardner embraces the way people actually learn, by the actual use of language and not “teaching to the test.” Language is a complex subject that has not yielded to a formulaic approach by teachers. AS PG of the BOCES says “being adaptable is key.” Considering a plan of action this study is aimed at ESL teachers at all levels who are frustrated with the limitations of No Child Left Behind. High –stakes testing can leave a teacher feeling that they are not actually educating but have become cogs in a testing machine. Actually ESL teachers may be in a position to prepare students for a post-No Child era by using their unique position as both educators and advocates to lobby within the education establishment on behalf of their students. Recommendations I have three recommendations based on my findings. 1) Teachers should do more to advocate on behalf of our students by involving and informing parents in the education of their children. 2) Educators should use self-made assessments rather than assessments supplied by standardized testing companies. 3) Make time for project based and Inquiry based teaching methods to involve students in their own learning.
Students with Interrupted Formal Education
References Medina, J. 2009, January 25. In School for the First Time, Teenage Immigrants Struggle. New York Times, online New York City’s Language Learners: Demographics, Summer 2008 New York City Department of Education Office of English Language Learners UNICEF. State of the World’s Children. November, 2009. Statistics by Area/Education. http://www.childinfo.org/education_challenge.html US Department of Education 2005 Garcia, O. 1999. Educating Latino High School Students with Little Formal Schooling. In So Much To Say. 1999. Teacher’s College, Columbia University. New York, NY. Online Freeman, Y., Freeman, D.E. & Mercuri, S. 2001. Keys to Success for Bilingual Students with Limited Formal Schooling. Bilingual Research Journal; Winter 2001; 25, _ Research Library pg. 203 Morse, A. 2005. A Look at Immigrant Youth Prospects and promising practices. Washington, D.C. National Conference of State Legislatures DeCapua, A., Smathers, W. & Lixing, F.T. March, 2007. Schooling Interrupted. Educational Leadership. Pg. 40-43). Carlos J. Ovando (Apr., 2001) Beyond "Blaming the Victim": Successful Schools for Latino Students. Educational Researcher, Vol. 30, No. 3 p. 30 Educational Broadcasting Corporation (2004) Retrieved from Explanation of Inquirybased Learning website: http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/inquiry/index.html) Lopez, G. R. 2004. Bringing the Mountain to Mohammed: Parent Involvement in Migrant-Impacted Schools. In Scholars in the Field: The Challenges of Migrant Education p. 132-146).
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