The forgotten ones

The Latino immigrant students of John Muir High School may need our help most of all

By Randy Jurado Ertll 03/07/2008

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Parents and other community members in Pasadena have great hope for the work of Pasadena Unified School District Superintendent Edwin Diaz in his drive to improve the serious drop-out rates impacting Latino and African-American students.

John Muir High School should be one of the schools to benefit greatly from any program or project created to reduce drop-out rates of Latino and African-American students, which are as high 50 percent.

More than 55 percent of the students at Muir High are Latino, and 38 percent of the student population is African American, according to figures provided by the state Department of Education.

Currently, 220 English Language Learners (ELL) at John Muir High School are struggling with language barriers which preclude them from fully understanding their classes and doing their homework.

These recent Latin American immigrant students carry a great burden by not speaking English. Many fail because they do not comprehend math, science and other classes that are taught only in English. Many of these students are learning English, but they face an uphill battle because they have been continually neglected and ignored.

Transferring students to other locations is not likely to solve the problem, and many of these children may, in fact, become frustrated and simply drop out. Once that happens, many of these kids are recruited to join gangs.

Some community members are beginning to advocate for a "newcomer center" to be created at Muir in order to help recent immigrant students learn English more quickly, navigate the public school system and understand the requirements for graduation.
It will only be a positive and productive approach to offer help to these young students. Helping them remain in school and get an education ultimately benefits society and the school, which will be able to collect more state money per student saved.

A solid partnership can be developed with Pasadena City College (PCC) to offer English classes during the regular school day and in afterschool programs.

For the past five years, El Centro de Accion Social has offered Muir students enrollment in the El Centro Youth Leadership Academy, where students get tutoring in English, math, science, reading and writing. Students are taken on field trips to colleges and universities to create incentives to further their education. We also have implemented a guest speaker series in which professionals from various backgrounds discuss careers and the personal struggles and triumphs that helped them become successful.

If you would like to catch a glimpse of the struggles faced by many recent immigrant students, please read "Enrique's Journey" by Sonia Nazario. This powerful book describes the painful journey that a Honduran boy takes to be with his mother in North Carolina.

Muir can return to its glory days as one of the best high schools in Pasadena, but we cannot expect the school district to do it alone.

Community groups, churches, law enforcement, local businesses and institutions of higher learning must pitch in. But let's be sure not to forget about the recent immigrant students who need an extra helping hand while Muir restructures and improves.

Randy Jurado Ertll is the executive director of El Centro de Accion Social in Pasadena. Contact him at randyertll@yahoo.com.

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