I ride the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan everyday. I see people, and hear languages from every corner of the world, reminding me that I live in New York City – the American heart of immigration, historically and today. Immigration is a hot topic on news media, within the Presidential debates and also for the City’s Education Department at the moment. I often overhear fellow citizens balking at immigrants who do not speak adequate English or integrate into American society. I have not seen much introspect as to how we are receiving immigrant youth, what are we doing to make sure that the immigrant population is being integrated? Perhaps, as Jessica Siegel wrote in her article the Village Voice, ‘Finding a High School for an Immigrant Child is Harder than you think.” As tax cuts are occurring and schools are becoming smaller, and already overcrowded in New York City one of the first programs to be cut – or never even commenced – are the ESOL (English as a Second or Other Language) programs.
In her article Siegel tells the account of a 16 year-old boy, Ralph Antony who arrived from Haiti in August, joining his extended family in Brooklyn. He and his family were sent on a frustrating journey through five different schools and relentless bureaucratic systems before finding a Public high school that would take him. Either the schools were too crowded, did not have the right programs or found that the student’s English proficiency was not enough. Mayer Bloomburg’s educational restructuring, of the newer smaller schools that were part of his plan, less than 5% include an ELL (English Language Learners) program. Law demands that Public schools include ELL, and in March 2006 a Citywide Council on High schools, a parent group, filed a Civil Rights suit, accusing the Department of Education of discriminating against ELLs and special education. While the group is awaiting some resolution on the case, we find our recently immigrated Ralph Antony being inefficiently handled at one of the 14 public school enrollment centers. According to the account, the staff were unable to provide the services required for an easy registration and enrollment process. Worse than that, the Department of Education is not monitoring which schools have active ELL classes, and those that do not. Many of the new, smaller schools are going off the idea that they must first take a few years to get established before initiating the programs. This illustrates that ELL support is not a priority in the New York School system – So, who is to blame that immigrants are not integrating? So often in Education we easily point our fingers at the students, saying ‘they are not succeeding’ but, how often do we point our fingers at the system, saying ‘we are not providing?’