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Integrating Immigrant Students into the Class Day in Monett (pt.2)

RANDY: This morning you met Dr. John Jungmann, Superintendent of the Monett, Missouri school district, who talked about the services the district provides for their more than 400 foreign-born students through the “English Language Learners” program. This afternoon we’ll explore how these students for whom English is a second language are integrated into the regular class day and get along with the non-immigrant students; their parents’ involvement in their education; and the role played by the Federally-mandated No Child Left Behind program. I asked Dr. Jungmann if he feels the Monett school district has enough resources in terms of staff, funding and time to meet the special needs of immigrant students who don’t speak fluent English.DR. JOHN JUNGMANN: I don’t know that any district will ever say they have “enough”! There’s always more needs, there’s always more opportunities to get better. Because if every kid was proficient in English right now, then I’d say, “Yeah, we’ve had enough.” But we’re not there. We’ve got to do better. I think it’s really changed the way we do professional development and training for our faculty and staff. We look at the needs of our kids, we see what the data tells us where our kids struggle, and we’ve got to develop our teachers in those areas. The good news is, a lot of effective teaching strategies for English Language Learners are effective strategies for all kids. So we’re really getting better at being good teachers, and that’s affecting all kids.RANDY: It’s raised the bar all the way across.JUNGMANN: Without a doubt. That’s something that we’re proud of--we’ve really performed better because we’ve been pushed to.RANDY: The non-English speakers are integrated into the mainstream as quickly as possible in the Monett schools.JUNGMANN: We practice what we would consider kind of an “immersion”--type of system, where we provide support outside of the regular school day and inside the school day. But most of these English Language Learners are right there next to fluent English-speaking students, so they can learn from each other. It does provide some challenges for teachers, as we try to make sure all kids are understanding the lessons. However, it’s a great thing to get students working together. We try not to be the “sage on the stage” and the teacher doing everything. But if we can get kids working together and learning from each other, they’re so much more effective. There’s not a “pull-out.” We do have a pre-school for English Language Learners--there’s not enough spots for all of our kids, but we do have a pre-school to address some of those needs before they go into kindergarten. However, once they’re into kindergarten, they’re immersed into the regular class day, and then we provide support and time in pull-out situations. RANDY: How do the immigrant and non-immigrant populations in the school get along?JUNGMANN: You know, I don’t see any conflict. The great thing about kids--especially younger kids --is they don’t see race, they don’t see color, and they don’t see language as a barrier. They’ll talk to anybody. And that’s what we love about kids. And a lot of times adults put in the problems and raise the issues more than the kids do! So as for how they co-exist in the system, they get along very well. Now, do they always integrate 100 percent? No. But I think that’s human nature, and you see that in every facet of the world--that’s not just education.RANDY: Dr. Jungmann is pleased that the immigrant parents are very supportive of their children’s education, but it’s hard for them to be, as he says, “highly engaged” in the process. For one thing, the language barrier is much harder for the adults than it is for the kids.JUNGMANN: We have someone on every campus that’s fluent in Spanish, that has the ability to communicate when we have emergencies. And our kids are often the communicators--they do a lot of the translating, because they typically, by the time they’ve been here a few years, have at least language fluency to have conversations with the parents and the teachers. RANDY: What would you like lawmakers, either at the state or the Federal level, to do to make it easier for school districts like Monett to address these needs of immigrant students?JUNGMANN: The biggest thing that we face is that No Child Left Behind puts a lot of pressures on us to get these students “achieving” immediately. And there’s nothing in research that says that’s feasible--or even appropriate--for kids to be able to come in with no language skills, and by third grade have fluency and be proficient! That’s just not feasible. We would like them to consider what the research says. It takes years to develop a language academically. Conversationally, we can develop it pretty quick. But academically? It takes time. And if they would give us some of that time to let it happen and not put major sanctions on us when we’re not meeting the timeline they’ve set… which makes no sense to us. We want to close the achievement gap between kids that are economically deprived, or have language issues. However, it doesn’t give you the time that research says is needed to make that change happen. It’s trying to make a very complex subject real simple. And when we do that, we hurt a lot of people along the way.RANDY: What may be the most rewarding aspect of all this?JUNGMANN: Our kids, whether they be the Caucasian students, the Hispanic students, the African-American students, whatever, are getting to come to school in a diverse population. SO when they go out into the workforce, or when they go to college, and have more diversity, they’re not going to be intimidated by that and not have the issues that some other people may have to overcome because they weren’t raised in that kind of community.