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Last modified: Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Resources, understanding, and inclusiveness are needed for Latino students in Indiana

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Rebecca Martinez, assistant professor of counseling and educational psychology in the Indiana University School of Education, speaks about her experience working as a counselor with some Indiana school districts in evaluating Latino newcomers:
"...and every single time the question has been 'is the student mentally retarded?' And every single time it's been a matter not of evaluating or ruling out cognitive impairment, but of educating the staff -- the whole issue of English, the second language acquisition process. So there's a big misconception about if you don't speak English that there's obviously something wrong. And that's not the case."

Martinez speaks to why communicating with newcomers and their families is so important for school personnel:
"Maybe you've got a child who's lived on the Texas-Mexico border and been in school there for years, and now they're in Indiana. That's a very different story than the child who was formally trained through fourth grade in Mexico City. But if you don't ask questions, you don't know. One of the problems with that is that you've got a lot of parents who are illegal, and they're scared to death. They don't want anything to happen. And so communication is often difficult because of the fear parents have about having to go back, or being found out. And so I think all schools need someone who's proficient, bilingual, who's able to bridge that gap between the school and the family so that there's a level of trust for the betterment of the child. Otherwise, it's difficult, it's really, really difficult."

Peter Cowan, assistant professor of language education, describes why cultural competency is important:
"It's really just saying you don't need to know everything about everybody, but we just need to be human and try to understand how other people feel and be curious about them and how they might be different and what we can learn from them. And then incorporate those things into how we teach them, how we bridge from what they know and do to what we need to be teaching them in school."

Cowan says the need for literacy training and specialized personnel is vital:
"You have the myth that students just need to learn English, and they'll be okay. And you can just learn English by being immersed in the context, and that's fine. And it's a lot more complicated than that. You have the myth that education is relatively straightforward and easy, and teachers don't need any particular kind of special training, as long as they know their content knowledge, as long as they love kids, they're going to find out, they're going to find a way and everything will work out. Well, no, that's not necessarily true, either."

Lauren Harvey, assistant director of Language Minority and Migrant Programs in the Indiana Department of Education, says the state is concerned about better assessment of limited English proficiency students:
"Only for the first year of enrollment in U.S. schools is there any kind of flexibility where students can be exempted from the English language arts portion of the test. They still have to take the math part. So after the first year, they are expected to take the regular ISTEP assessment in all areas, with some accommodations that are approved on an individual basis. Indiana is one of several states that are working with the U.S. Department of Education on a collaborative called the 'LEP Partnership' to develop better means of standardized assessment for limited-English-proficient students and to identify appropriate instructional and assessment accommodations on those types of assessments."

Harvey describes the need for ESL-trained teachers and staff:
"That's critical. It's really important that school corporations have qualified staff and they have teachers, not only with a few in-services or workshops under their belt, but that they actually have staff that have the certification or endorsement in the ESL area. And right now, that is kind of limited in availability as far as the number of institutes of higher education that offer the certification and the number of teachers that actually complete it, and further the number that actually stay in the state and utilize that certification."

Lopez says the report is intended to be a call for a bigger overall effort:
"What we're trying to do with this report is, we're really trying to encourage and promote policy-makers to really begin to recognize that the growth of this population in the Latino community will specifically require resources, will require much more of a strategy, a concerted effort, if you will, to address the multiple needs and the multiple challenges we face as educators."