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Hispanic students lag behind classmates

Nicole Frey
NWS Avon Ele. SM 2-16
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EAGLE Jose Alvarado has big dreams for his three children a good American education in public schools, college and then professional jobs. Plowing snow at the Riverview Apartments, where Alvarado works on the maintenance crew, he stopped and smiled to think his eldest child, Alejandra, might grow up to be a doctor or lawyer. Alvarado left his native Mexico 12 years ago and said he believes he and his family have better opportunities in the United States than in Mexico. But at the tender age of 4, the odds may be against Alejandra, who attends preschool at Avon Elementary School.Right now, Hispanic children in Eagle County who speak English fluently arent performing as well as their white classmates on reading and math tests, according to the results of the 2005 Colorado Student Assessment Program, better known as CSAP. Those with limited or no English skills are scoring even lower and the gap grows as the children get older a 36 percent difference between white students and those who speak limited English in third grade reading tests ballooned into a 61 percent difference in the 10th grade.Falling into the gapGrappling with this achievement gap are Eagle County School Board members, school district administrators and the Eagle County commissioners, all of whom met recently to talk about the problem. It was the first of a series of meetings to which community members will be invited to share their ideas. School board member Andy Arnold was weary about spreading the news that Hispanic children werent doing as well in schools lest it contribute to white flight the phenomenon manifested in Eagle County by white families moving away from schools with growing Hispanic populations. His own daughter, now in college, had debated whether to attend private or public schools. Going to Battle Mountain High School, she noticed her Advanced Placement classes more difficult courses for which students can earn college credit had few to no Hispanic children. But if many white kids flee, the advanced classes might not be offered at all, Arnold said.It would make it harder for us to offer a balanced curriculum, Arnold said. While educators initially believed Hispanics moving in and out of the county caused low scores, further research showed Hispanic children, even when changing schools, are mostly staying in Eagle County. The longer we can keep them, the better they do, said John Brendza, the school districts superintendent. These immigrant families are playing a critical role. We need to keep these people here.The group discussed lengthening the school year, restructuring the school day or requiring more math and English classes as a way of giving students less time to forget what theyve learned. In Spanish-speaking families, time at school spent speaking English is especially critical to Hispanic students, said school board member Scott Green. Culture influences test scoresHow to keep students in school meant delving into Hispanic culture and family values. While most immigrant families share the dream of having their children go to college, said Melinda Gladitsch, spokeswoman for the school district, the reality is many start working as soon as theyre old enough. Working means they dont participate in extracurricular activities, and after juggling school and work, many eventually choose to drop school to work full-time, Gladitsch said. Brendza also linked poorly performing Hispanic children to poverty, showing a correlation between low scores and government-subsidized lunches. Exacerbating the problem is many Hispanic families plan to return to their native countries, County Commissioner Tom Stone said.They see their time here as temporary, so theres no motive to integrate, he said. Juan Martinez, the property manager at Riverview Apartments, said its is only partially true. He said Hispanics renting in Avon and Edwards plan to return to Mexico or other homelands, whereas Hispanic people who own property, largely in the Eagle area, are here to stay. Martinez was born in the United States, but spent much of his childhood in Mexico. He returned to the United States with plans to raise a family, but hes since changed his mind and now plans to go back to Mexico to open a cheese factory with his brother. Ten years ago, there was not much to do in Mexico, Martinez said. The economic situation in Mexico wasnt so good. Now its better, and (the cheese factory) is something weve planned for a long time. My brother was going to be a chemical engineer, and I was going to be a businessman.But Martinez is still making better money here than he would in Mexico, so hell stay and save money until hes able to open his factory, he said. Which of these cultural issues the county government and school can influence is still unknown. But those at the meeting agreed getting to Hispanic families and children early and engaging them in the community is key, which may mean offering early childhood services and getting Hispanic parents to learn English and then speak it in their homes.And yet, those at the meeting said they were committed to finding solutions to close the gap between Hispanic and white children. If they succeed, Alejandra Alvarado and students like her may have a better chance of succeeding. Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or nfrey@vaildaily.com. Vail, Colorado


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