Immigrants and ELLs on the Great Plains

By Mary Ann Zehr — March 19, 2007 2 min read
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About one in three 1st- and 2nd-generation Latino students in Nebraska say they plan to work full time after they finish high school. And educators are concerned about the tendency of many Latinos in that Midwestern state to drop out of school even before graduating to take unskilled jobs.

Those are some recent findings by researchers Lourdes Gouveia and Mary Ann Powell at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, who have studied the integration--and sometimes the lack of integration--of Latinos into various aspects of community life in Nebraska. To learn more about Nebraska Latino students and schools, read page 5 of a study, “Second-Generation Latinos in Nebraska: A First Look,” posted on the Web site of the university’s Office of Latino/Latin American Studies of the Great Plains, or OLLAS.

Ms. Gouveia was one of the few researchers I could identify who was studying the impact of immigration on schools in the Midwest in the spring of 2005, when I last wrote about that topic for Education Week. I’m thinking that educators in states like Nebraska--not traditionally receiving states for immigrants but now seeing an influx--might learn something from her research.

In a second document posted on the OLLAS Web site--a book chapter called “Nebraska’s Responses to Immigration” --Ms. Gouveia summaries state policy issues regarding the education of immigrant children. She notes that a group of school districts have sued the state, claiming they aren’t getting adequate funding to serve English-language learners and poor and minority students as a whole.

Many of Nebraska’s K-12 Latino students are from families attracted to jobs in meatpacking and are English-language learners. In meat-packing communities such as Schuyler, Neb., for example, 30 percent of students are English-language learners, most of whom are Latino. In the 2000-01 school year, 3.7 percent of Nebraska’s school children were English-learners; by the 2004-05 school year, that proportion had increased to 5.78 percent, Ms. Gouveia reports.

In her book chapter, Ms. Gouveia writes: “Nebraskans’ attitudes toward immigrants appear to be changing rapidly and not necessarily for the better. ... The anti-immigrant rhetoric and polices being trumpeted at the national level are beginning to derail Nebraska’s home-grown, albeit incipient, efforts to facilitate the successful integration of new immigrants into our local institutions.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.