SOUTH BEND–Judging by the number of students in the public school’s bilingual program, the city is becoming more of a world community.
Twenty native languages are spoken among the students in the South Bend Community School Corp.’s Bilingual Summer School program. Of that number, 404 are from Spanish-speaking countries, five are from China, eight from Africa, 12 from Vietnam, and two from Russia.
The five- week program ended Friday.
Jerry Kleinert, who directed the program at Navarre Middle School, said 80 students in grades six to 11 were at the Navarre site this summer. At the second site, Wilson Elementary, 250 students attended from prekindergarten to fifth grade.
Though the largest group arriving in the city is from Spanish-speaking countries, there has been an increase in the number of students from Africa and Eastern Europe, according to Maritza Robles, director of the school corporation’s bilingual program.
Robles said South Bend has a more diverse population from more diverse home language backgrounds. Yet there really is no single reason as to why they are drawn to this area, she said.
The local universities provide one drawing card. Robles said some of the students’ parents came here to study at the University of Notre Dame or Indiana University South Bend.
Business opportunies are the attraction for some familes, she said. For example, the family of a Chinese student in the bilingual program recently opened a restaurant here, she said.
Also, churches and individuals have an active role in facilitating refugees by playing the role of sponsor, she said.
But sometimes a student may arrive or leave on a notice as short as 24 hours, which can pose a challenge for school officials, Robles said.
Some immigrants may come here and not know the area and the opportunities available. Or, for example, some may come not knowing how severe the winter is, and they will move eventually to California. But most immigrants stay here for long periods of time, she said.
The bilingual program was at its peak about 10 years ago, but has since leveled off, Kleinert said. Though they are now seeing more students from African and Asian countries, there used to be a greater number of students from Vietnam, in comparison, he said.
Makabu Tshimanga, 18, spoke no English when he and his family moved to South Bend from the African nation of Zaire three months ago. And his English is very good, though he thinks it is only “sometimes.”
But Robles said she talked to Tshimanga recently and she was “really impressed with his progress and proficiency.”
A student at Adams High School, Tshimanga said he likes the summer bilingual program because it also offers computer training. He aspires to become a medical doctor and a gospel music singer.
Like Tshimanga, Yan Nyan, 12, spoke no English when she moved here with her family from China three years ago. Yan, who will enter Clay Middle School this fall, wants to become a teacher. She believes she benefited from the summer school program that revolved around the theme, Careers in the 21st Century.
Students in the lower grades were taught awareness of job duties and the education needed, Kleinert said. At Navarre, the older students took part in a career computer lab and the regular computer lab, with their main project being preparing a career portfolio. The students heard from several guest speakers from area companies. and took field trips to various companies, he said.
There is a different theme each summer that integrates math, language and computer skills into the bilingual program, he said.
A student receiving bilingual services during the school year automatically is eligible for the summer program. But the bilingual summer school program is not mandatory–all of the students attending do so voluntarily.