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'Generation One': How Schools Can Help Immigrant Students

Christina Ulsh
Students and parents prepared for the first day of school in Vickery Meadow, an immigrant-rich neighborhood in Northeast Dallas.

What can Texas schools do to help immigrant students? It's the focus of the latest installment in a KERA American Graduate series called Generation One.

Julian Vasquez Heilig has spent years studying how schools educate immigrants. He’s a professor at California State University, Sacramento. He previously worked at the University of Texas at Austin. He spoke with KERA and shared his thoughts on what can be done to help immigrant students, high-stakes testing, and a possible breakthrough in North Texas:

We did some recent research in Texas that shows that immigrant students, English language learner students, are what we call triple-segregated. Not only are students segregated by income levels, but they’re also segregated by race and schools that serve ELLs are serving large majorities of English language learner students. We have very serious issues because we know these highly segregated schools are most likely to have teachers that are uncertified and underprepared to teach. They have lower per-pupil spending compared to schools just across town.

Explore the interactive series here.

One in three Texas kids is either an immigrant or the child of immigrants. Over the next several weeks, KERA will explore the challenges these children face and the ways North Texas schools are trying to weave them into the American tapestry.

These kids have to learn a new language, adapt to a different culture and try to fit into a community that may not embrace newcomers.

Chapter 3: She Escaped Violence For A Fresh Start in Texas

The third story in the series introduces Dilcia M. Asencio Mazariegos, who left Guatemala in 2012 to get away from a violent family member. She attends Plano East Senior High School where she's enrolled in English as a Second Language classes. But she's also been juggling two jobs.

Dilcia's teachers say students like her face academic challenges such as learning English. Some come with little schooling in their home country or haven't mastered their native language.

At the same time, many of these kids have a strong work ethic, says immigration attorney Paul Zoltan. "She wants to be a productive member of society," Zoltan says.

Chapter 2: Going From Spanish (Or Urdu Or Arabic) To English

The second story in the series takes a look at how the Grapevine-Colleyville school district is responding to the dramatic demographic changes.

In recent years, the number of students learning English — they’re called English language learners — has climbed 60 percent. 

The district partnered with the police department to create the Grapevine Community Outreach Center. And the district launched the Language Assessment Center over the summer. Kids who aren’t native English speakers get tested at the center and are then placed in the right language program.

Of the students learning English in Grapevine-Colleyville, most speak Spanish. But kids also speak Korean, Urdu, Hindi, Arabic and Ukrainian.

 “Learning a language is not easy, whether you’re 5 or whether you’re 45,” says Jodi Cox, the district’s world languages director.

Chapter 1: In A Land Of Strangers, Paving His Own Path

The first story features David Kapuku. Just two weeks after arriving from Africa, David enrolled at Conrad High School in Northeast Dallas. He started school in a new country where students speak a different language. It can be overwhelming. Now, a year and a half later, David is helping other refugee kids making the transition.

About the series

Each Tuesday through the end of the year, stories will air on KERA 90.1 FM. Explore the stories in KERA’s digital storytelling project, which features videos and an interactive graphic showing where Texas’ foreign-born population comes from.

Read the series here.

Generation One is part of KERA's American Graduate initiative.

Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.