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Bridging the Achievement Gap

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend two conferences focusing on Latino issues in North Carolina. Latino immigration to North Carolina is relatively recent, but fast growing. From 1990-2000, the Latino population grew by almost 400% to an estimated 530,328 individuals. Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte have three of the four fastest growing Latino populations in the nation (Source: US Bureau of the Census, Selig Center for Economic Growth, Employment Security Commission, El Pueblo). One of the top issues of concern is education, followed by a slew of others from ranging from healthcare to driverís licenses.
The focus of many of the conference sessions was Latino achievement in the public school system. The public schools are experiencing an influx of Latino students, many with limited literacy skills and/or English proficiency. How best to deal with these studentsí needs is a matter of debate. One thing is clear, however; the need to communicate with them and their parents is of utmost importance. The schools in North Carolina, as well as many other states without a long history of Latino immigration, are woefully lacking Spanish-speaking staff. One of the conference presenters told a story about two Latino students who didnít find out until two weeks before graduation that they would not be graduating. Their teachers gave the excuse that they could not find anyone to translate for them. The lack of Spanish speaking teachers and school staff means that important matters concerning a childís education may not be communicated to the child or parents in a language that they understand. Language and cultural issues have resulted in what is now referred to as the ďAchievement GapĒ, the disparity in school performance between groups of students. Latino students have a higher drop out rate and a lower rate of college attendance. The bottom line at the conferences was increasing Latino student success in our schools will result in both economic and social benefits for our society as a whole.
These conferences were inspiring to me because I saw so many people and organizations working towards solutions to these issues. One theme I heard over and over is LEARN SPANISH. Some teachers expressed that even by using the little Spanish that they knew, the noticed a notable difference in their relationships with the parents. Teachers who had participated in an immersion program could not say enough about how this contact with the culture effected their perceptions and cultural understanding. The bottom line was that a little effort goes a long way.

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