Students entering Santa Fe schools speaking Spanish or a language other than English struggle not only with learning a new language, but with keeping up with their academics, as well. And the number of these students in the district continues to grow.
“Experts are saying that by the year 2010, Mexican Americans are going to be the majority in this country instead of the minority,” said Jose Villegas, a parent and activist. “Our district needs to start making a big play for federal bilingual dollars because already the highest percentage of students in our district are Hispanic.”
Identifying children who qualify for bilingual services has been a problem in the past, Santa Fe superintendent Lee Vargas said. In 1997-98, Vargas pushed his administrators and teachers to test every child to ensure all children who qualified for bilingual services got the help they needed. In addition, the district was able to get additional money from the federal government based on the higher number of bilingual students being served, he said.
According to district statistics, ethnicity and language factored into standardized test scores for 1997-98 as well as economics. The five top-scoring elementary schools — Acequia Madre, Atalaya, E.J. Martinez, El Dorado and Wood Gormley — have an average population mix of 65 percent Anglo, 30 percent Hispanic and 5 percent other.
These five schools have an average of four non-English speaking students and 10.2 Limited English Proficiency, or LEP, students.
The five low-scoring elementary schools — Alvord, Cesar Chavez, Sweeney, Tesuque and Turquoise Trail — have an average population mix of 26.2 percent Anglo, 69 percent Hispanic and 4.8 percent other.
These five schools have an average of 13.8 non-English speaking students and 61 LEP students.
How much help these non-English-speaking and LEP students gets varies significantly from school to school. The district staggers under the weight of a nationwide shortage of bilingually certified teachers. This year it recruited 12 teachers from Spain to help increase the number of bilingual teachers in schools where they are needed the most, Vargas said.
District statistics show certified bilingual teachers aren’t always placed where the need is the greatest.
For example, in 1997, Cesar Chavez Elementary had a 78 percent Hispanic population, with 28 non-English speakers and 112 LEP students, yet it had only five certified bilingual teachers. That is one certified bilingual teacher for every 28 children who were eligible for bilingual education.
During that same period, other schools with high Hispanic populations found themselves in similar or even more dire straits. Nava Elementary had one certified teacher to every 20.6 students, Pinon Elementary had one certified teacher to every 28.6 students and Salazar Elementary had one certified teacher to every 43 students.
On the other hand, some schools with low numbers of Hispanic students had much lower certified-bilingual-teacher-to-student ratios during the 1997-98 school year.
For example, E.J. Martinez Elementary had one certified teacher for every 2.6 non-English or LEP students. At Carlos Gilbert Elementary, the ratio was one certified teacher to every 4.3 students, and at Wood Gormley Elementary, the ratio was one certified teacher to every 5.3 students.
The ratio of certified bilingual teachers to students qualified for services skyrocketed at the high-school level during the 1997-98 school year. Capital High had a 73 percent Hispanic population, 33 non-English speaking students and 59 LEP students and only one bilingual certified teacher.
Bilingual students at Santa Fe High didn’t fare much better. There were no certified bilingual teachers for the school’s 69 students who qualified for services.
Vargas said several factors go into the allocation of certified bilingual teachers. Some schools in the district such as Carlos Gilbert choose to be magnet schools focusing on bilingual and even trilingual programs. These schools must have certified bilingual programs to deliver the curriculum, he said.
Teachers’ contracts also come into play. Moving a certified bilingual teacher to a school where there is higher need has ramifications with the unions, because teachers tend to like to stay in the schools where they currently teach, Vargas said. Such moves would have to be bargained for with the union, he added.
Getting certified in bilingual education isn’t always worth it to a lot of teachers, said Janis DiVoti, principal at Pinon Elementary. She said bilingual teachers often are torn between helping students with varying degrees of English proficiency.
In a Feb. 25 article in the Journal North, Nava Elementary bilingual teacher Mona Allocca said she often feels pulled in a million directions.
“My concern is all the hats bilingual teachers have to wear,” she was quoted as saying. “I have four kids from Mexico who are monolingual. I have several kids who are limited in their English proficiency, and then I have kids who speak only English.
“I don’t have an aide in my classroom to help me. I don’t have 10 heads and 20 hands to teach all the third-grade curriculum in two languages.
“I feel guilty if I’m teaching in English, because I don’t have time to really work with my monolingual students, and I feel guilty if I teach in Spanish because I don’t have time to work with my English speakers.”
EQUITY IN EDUCATION
Today, Journal North continues a three-day look at whether Santa Fe students get a fair and equal education.
*For all the state’s efforts to provide equal support for New Mexico’s students, are the children in Santa Fe all receiving a fair and equal education?
*nWhy do some schools’ students consistently score higher than other schools if funding is applied equitably across the district?
*Extras — music, art and physical education teachers, supplies and books — may depend on the help of parents and teachers. And that may depend on socioeconomics.
*Economics, income and the numbers of gifted students or those with special needs impact how Santa Fe students score on tests.
*Ethnicity and language, as well as economics, may factor into standardized test scores. But help for students who speak limited English or none at all varies from school to school.
*Inequities in Santa Fe Public Schools’ buildings may affect student performance. But a committee is looking at ways to change that and to fund necessary improvements.
*What some schools may lack in amenities, they make up in size. These small schools seem to benefit students.
*With the increased importance placed on technology, do students at all Santa Fe schools have fair and equal access to computers and up-to-date software?