'It Is a Human Issue'

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The author is a teacher and bilingual literacy specialist at Walton Junior High School in Bentonville, Ark.

In the northwest corner of Arkansas where I live and work, the trucking industry, poultry business, and one of the world's largest retailers have created a job market that is groaning for people who are willing to work. And thousands are arriving.

As their children enter my classroom, I know what is going on in their active minds. They don't externalize it; it's always in their eyes. These students struggle with the unmanageable chaos of linguistic development. They struggle to develop selfhood.

My students seem to come from nowhere and have no place to go. They face a society that is often unmoved by their presence.

But I am fortunate enough to work in a school district that embraces cultural diversity as an asset. The principal of Walton Junior High School and I agree that none of the immigrants in our school should be culturally overwhelmed. All of the students and teachers in our school must step out of their cultural backgrounds and shed their ethnocentrism.

To help them do so, we developed Hints for Individualized Spectacular Second Language Instruction. Project H.I.S.S.I. is in its first year at Walton Junior High School in Bentonville. The program attempts to link the assessment, curriculum, and instruction of English to speakers of other languages. Our school's goal is to instruct all students in English while retaining the national identity of students in Bentonville's multicultural society.

Project H.I.S.S.I. strives to retain the primary language of its Hispanic students, teaching true bilingualism. They receive academic tutoring in their primary language every other day and daily instruction in English as a second language within the regular classroom.

I teach basic English to my students through literature, history, sciences, and other content areas. Comprehending what they are reading in English, not merely reading English, is the aim for these students, whom we prefer to call 'potentially English proficient.'

Although the program directly serves only the students in our junior high, it aims to benefit all students, their families, and the community. The students visit various community centers and schools to share their work and projects. In this way, the Senior Adult Center, preschool center, and adjacent elementary school will benefit from the education of these bilingual students. Further down the line, the business community will profit from this literacy program as these students become competent participants in the workforce.

Students involved in Project H.I.S.S.I. also practice their native language by tutoring others studying Spanish as a foreign language. Pep students get a chance to be the 'experts,' teaching English-speaking students about foreign cultures. We hold food units, learning about and sampling international foods; encourage pep students to teach others about the art and music of their country; and invite parents and other family members to visit the classroom as guest speakers.

Professional development is a critical component for teachers like me who are educating a radically changed student body. The University of Arkansas offers conference programs empowering educators and community leaders with practical applications and suggestions. The Desegregation Assistance Center in San Antonio provides assistance in working with diverse populations within a district. The Arkansas Department of Education Title VII programs offer money for staff development for E.S.L. programs in the state.

Panels of educators from all neighboring school districts meet for discussions, sharing possible actions and training for school staffs. In-service sessions at many districts now include basic Spanish instruction for staff members.

Because the education of immigrants impacts all of Bentonville, the entire community has pitched in to help the schools in the effort. Language majors at the University of Arkansas volunteer time in the public schools on a weekly basis for tutoring E.S.L. students. Churches, community organizations, and literacy councils have become active in developing programs and providing tutoring for the E.S.L.population.

Finally, schools and businesses have become collaborative partners in educating and teaching English to immigrant students and their families. Adult education centers and district language teachers provide on-site language training to area industries, like banks, that work with large numbers of the Hispanic community. In short, the entire Bentonville community has risen to the challenge of educating the new Hispanic population.

I want my immigrant students to have the promise of future happiness. I want to provide them with the tools and the courage to struggle to selfhood. They must find self-discovery and become independent persons in order for society to realize the many benefits of these bright, creative students.

Immigration is not a federal, state, or local issue. Immigration is a human issue. We all benefit from a literate society. So all of us need to share equally in the responsibility of developing one.

Vol. 14, Issue 17

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