Grants to help students with English skills

Funds target southwest Houston schools

Several thousand students with limited English skills throughout southwest Houston will benefit from more than $ 6 million in grants recently issued by the U.S. Department of Education.

“We will be implementing these new grants next year,” said Nancy Nichols, southwest district director of grant development and implementation for the Houston Independent School District.

“They are for schools with large numbers of limited-English-proficient students.”

Recipients of the three-to-five-year grants are Bellaire High School, Long Middle School and Benavidez, Rodriguez, Braeburn and Herod elementaries. At some schools, the grants already have been initiated.

The Title 7 grants are awarded to each school for either three or five years. Comprehensive grants are awarded to schools with a 25 percent or higher limited-English-proficient population and are issued for five years, averaging $ 250,000 each year, or $ 1.25 million total.

Three-year program development and implementation grants are generally about $ 150,000 a year or $ 450,000 total. The grant is designed for schools with a smaller amount of limited-English-proficient students .

“As the name implies, they (educators) are looking to develop something new,” Nichols said.

HISD has been participating in the bilingual and English as a Second Language grant process for more than 10 years, said Nichols, a former principal at Herod Elementary, a multilingual school recently awarded a grant.

Herod will receive about $ 450,000 for its English as a Second Language and dual language programs. At Herod, about 20 different languages are represented in the student population, Nichols said.

At Bellaire, the thrust of a grant totaling $ 450,000 is to reinforce the school’s English as a Second Language program to minimize the dropout rate.

Dropout rates among English as a Second Language students are among the highest of all sub-populations at the school, said Sandi Starr, Bellaire High School ESL teacher.

The grant promotes language development in academic classes and offers professional development for sheltered teachers, those who teach regular classes such as math and science to limited-English-proficient students. A third component promotes literacy and English for parents and begins this month.

Long Middle School, which feeds into Bellaire High School, has received a comprehensive grant totaling $ 1.5 million.

Ninety percent of Long’s students receive free or reduced lunches. About 80 percent are ESL students, a figure reflecting the diverse Gulfton neighborhood that it serves.

“Eighty percent of our kids were born somewhere else,” said Long Principal Clyde Huff.

“Before you can chart a course and have a mission, you have to decide who you are,” he said. “We are very much a school that has to deal with literacy issues.”

The “Media Literacy” grant evaluates what students see and how they reproduce what they see. Media literacy involves the entire student body in understanding, using and producing media to promote language skills, Nichols said.

The three-pronged process can be applied to all subject areas.

“Whatever we endeavor to do – core curriculum, electives, etcetera – we must answer questions about literacy,” Huff said.

The process might begin with students gathering news from their native countries and interpreting it in English. Methodology allows for different interpretations of world events.

“What they have in common with teens across the world is a fascination with media,” Nichols said. “It’s a perfect way to find a common language for the children.”

Students might study the reporting of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by collecting dialogue from around the world.

The social studies teacher might have a discussion of how it was represented in the media in different countries, she added.

“Media literacy is a perfect way to find a common language for the children,” Nichols said.

Long also received a $ 35,000-a-year, three-year pilot grant for teacher training.

Rodriguez Elementary, named for the late KHOU-TV Channel 11 newscaster Sylvan Rodriguez, is implementing a $ 1.25 million comprehensive grant to educate students to speak and read in Spanish and English. The emphasis of the content is on science and math, Nichols said.

Braeburn Elementary has been awarded a $ 1.25 million comprehensive grant which includes a component for serving gifted-and-talented LEP students. In addition, Benavidez Elementary is being funded by a $ 1.25 million comprehensive grant for LEP students.

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