Equity & Diversity

Spanish-Speaking Oregon Students Get Helping Hand

By Mary C. Breaden — October 30, 2007 1 min read
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The Oregon Department of Education is looking beyond its borders—well beyond—to encourage Spanish-speaking students to stay in high school.

Currently, 19 high schools in the state are taking part in the Oregon-Mexico Education Partnership, a program between the Mexican government and the state education department that provides students with free Spanish-language textbooks, CDs, DVDs, and an online site, covering mathematics, science, and other subjects needed to earn a diploma.

The partnership, referred to as Plaza Comunitaria, or Community Plaza, by the Oregon education department, was launched in the state in 2004, said Patrick Burk, the chief policy officer for the state superintendent’s office.

While Hispanics make up about 15 percent of the more than 560,000 students enrolled in Oregon’s public schools and are among the 55,000 students enrolled in English-as-a-second-language classes, only about 2 percent of teachers are Spanish-speaking. That imbalance can produce “a tendency for students to slip behind,” Mr. Burk said.

Mexico began making material from its national curriculum available with the signing of an agreement with the United States in 1990, and 37 other states currently offer programs similar to Oregon’s.

Oregon’s initiative is administered by the state education department, the Mexican consulate in Portland, and the Salem, Ore.-based Willamette Education Service District.

Mr. Burk said students using the Mexican curriculum “have to show that the use of the Mexican material … achieves the same standard [as that of their peers].”

Joy Peyton, a language expert and a vice president at the Washington-based Center for Applied Linguistics, believes the program provides a valuable way for the students to continue learning in Spanish, even as they become fluent in English.

“In an ideal world, we would see what value there is in these students’ being proficient and academically excellent in two languages. Ultimately, we would be participating in … a bilingual society,” said Ms. Peyton.

See Also

See other stories on education issues in Oregon. See data on Oregon’s public school system.

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A version of this article appeared in the October 31, 2007 edition of Education Week

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