SCHOOLS dealing with influx of Spanish-speaking students

Friday, September 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Oklahoma's Hispanic population has grown 108% over the last decade. Compare that with an overall state growth rate of 9.7%.

The public school system has seen tremendous change with the influx of Spanish-speaking students. News on Six's Tami Marler shows us what's being done to break the language barrier.

More than 4,000 Hispanic students attend Tulsa Public Schools, about 400 at Kendall-Whittier Elementary School, 40% of the student population. The whole school is a study in cultural diversity. Judy Feary, Kendall-Whittier Principal: "Some of the greatest challenges are having so many students concentrated in classes. The language, they don't require the language quite as quickly, because they can rely on their Spanish for survival." In one class, children are just beginning to learn English. Much of their interaction is still in Spanish. Their teacher is fluent in both languages. This class bridges the gap between speaking English, and having a fuller understanding in school applications. It's one of many ways students learn to adapt to a brand-new culture. Something Oklahoma's Public Schools are becoming more sensitive to.

Sandy Garrett, Oklahoma State Superintendent: "Young children can truly become bi-lingual if you work with them young enough." Garrett addressed Tulsa's Hispanic Coalition, to discuss issues that affect Hispanic students. Issues they deal with every day at Kendall-Whittier. "Everything that's sent home goes in both Spanish and English. Anytime there's a meeting we have translators here for parents. If we have a meeting about a child, there's always a translator present. We have all progress reports that go home in Spanish."

Because the majority of Hispanic students have parents who can't speak English. They often rely on their children for translation. Student, Sonia Urquiza, "Yeah, because then my mom can just read it and then she'll know better than if I tell her, because she maybe not understand me." And Sonia says, students help each other. "Well because I help 'em because they're nice, and then they'll be nice to me and I know they're gonna learn." Oklahoma public schools are helping a growing community learn to thrive.

Another challenge facing Hispanic students, a relatively high dropout rate. Compared with a state dropout rate of 5.1%, Hispanic students drop out at a rate of 8.3%. Educators say, part of the reason is the language barrier. Another reason, they say many families take extended holidays to Mexico in December.