Sunday, April 27, 2008

Grand Prairie students reach out to poverty-stricken Mexican school

These students, who are poor by our standards, have a "sister school" in Mexico and are helping students much poorer than they are. DP

By STELLA M. CHÁVEZ / The Dallas Morning News Some Sam Rayburn Elementary parents have a hard time paying the rent in Grand Prairie. Others can't afford the school uniform.

But students there are learning that poverty is relative.

The children – some of them immigrants and children of immigrants – have taken on a mission to help students less fortunate than themselves.

Their new "sister school" consists of three classrooms in Ciudad Serdán, Mexico, a town in a mountainous region east of Puebla. At the Jose María Morelos y Pavón school, students have only an outhouse for a bathroom. Two grades share each classroom, and computers are nonexistent.

Sam Rayburn student Maida Chávez, 9, recently wrote in longhand to her new friends in Mexico, "I know you are poor and I want to help you."

The students also are collecting school supplies and clothing for the kids in Ciudad Serdán.

Carlos De La Cruz, Sam Rayburn's principal, conceived the project after visiting Ciudad Serdán with a former school district employee, Glenn Jenson. They visited an orphanage and learned that many of the students at the small school, considered the poorest in the city, lived there.

So, they decided to help in a way that would teach the Rayburn children a valuable lesson about kindness.
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A, B, C + 1, 2, 3 = Less Depression for Elderly African Immigrant Women

These immigrant African women in their 60s and 70s are learning English and how to be more self sufficient. And safer, now they can make phone calls, write their own names and talk to their doctor. DP

By Edwin Okong'o, Mshale Editor BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. – Sarah G. Swen walks to the courtesy telephone mounted on the wall in the hallway outside her classroom and pulls a small phonebook from her purse. The number she is looking for is scribbled in large print covering most of the 3-inch by 5-inch page.

“Seven-six-three,five-three-seven …” Swen begins to call out every digit she is dialing loud enough to be heard from 20 feet away.

The call doesn’t go through. She hangs up and tries again, and again. Swen’s repeated calling of the same phone number alerts Betty Toe, a schoolmate from a more advanced class, that the junior needs help.

“You have to dial one before seven-six-three. But because this phone is the same area code as the number you’re calling you only need to dial the last seven,” Toe explains before helping Swen make the call.

Swen is no little girl calling home to be picked up after her day in school, but she is a schoolgirl. She is one of more than a dozen Liberian immigrant women aged between 60 and 75, who come to Brookdale Covenant Church in Brooklyn Center every Saturday to be taught skills that most people in the United States do not have to go to a classroom for. Mastering basic skills like knowing how to write their own names and addresses,or how to make a phone call can bring tremendous freedom to these women.

Many of them can now leave their homes knowing that if they got lost they can make a phone call and give directions to where they are. Knowing English also allows them to bypass interpreters in private matters like visits to the hospital.

“I’m so happy that when I go to the doctor, I speak for myself,” says Toe, can now read English on her own.
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Teacher of the Year

This teacher, who learned English as a 7 year old, was inspired to be a teacher because of teachers who helped her when she was young. DP

She's willing to go the extra mile

By Debbie Coleman-topi Khakh was proud just to have been nominated for teacher of the year.

But the Franklin Smith Elementary third-grade teacher never expected that her name would be the one called as this year's Blue Springs School District Teacher of the Year. After shakily making her way to the podium at the ceremony Friday morning at Adams Pointe Conference Center, Khakh was so shocked to have been named for the district's top honor, that she didn't know what to say.

"You don't even know how unexpected this was," she told the crowd of other nominees, school board officials and district officials at the event. "I'm not ready, so I'm going to speak from my heart."

Khakh went on to praise others for helping her to achieve.

"The person who never gave up on me is my principal, Jan Castle," Khakh said. "This is a tribute to her, not me."

After the event, Castle said it's just like Khakh to give others credit.

"It's so hard to encapsulate all her greatness in a few words. Her own self expectation is the highest of high," Castle said of the teacher who attends each school program and activity.

Khakh has lived in Blue Springs for the last 13 years, with her husband, Jess, and their two children, Sareen, a third grader, and 4-year-old Jayven.

Khakh, who is of Indian descent, said she knew she wanted to be a teacher as a second-grader who was struggling to learn English and to fit in despite her different background and culture. Her parents are Indian immigrants, and her family lived for a while in England. But it was a teacher in Northern California, where she grew up, who inspired her to become a teacher. That teacher went to great lengths to help Khakh succeed, and that's when she felt called to teach.

"Then, when I looked within myself, I knew that was my calling," she said. "I knew I wanted to be that teacher who went the extra mile...not just their teacher for a year, but that teacher who made a difference."

Khakh said it's her struggles early in her education that make her a teacher who can relate.

"I appreciate being that struggling student," she said.

What's the best part about teaching? For Khakh, it's easy to say - she loves the challenge.

"The best part is that it's not easy."

Monday, April 21, 2008

Centreville Day Laborers: Their Side of the Story

This church group talked with day laborers to hear their story. They don't have any way to make sure they are treated fairly, and often aren't. DP

Workers seek fair pay, safe conditions.

By Bonnie Hobbs, Centre View Good, steady jobs with employers who won’t cheat them, health insurance and safe working conditions — these are the top things Centreville day laborers say they need.

Seven of them met last week at Centreville United Methodist Church with members of Wellspring United Church of Christ, some local residents, CUMC’s Director of Missions Barb Shaiko, attorney Edgar Aranda who works on behalf of immigrants, and Martin Rios, assistant director of Project Hope and Harmony with Reston Interfaith.

The men — most of whom are in their 20s and originally from Honduras — spoke Spanish, interpreted by both Rios and Aranda. To protect their identities — and so they felt free to speak their minds — Centre View is only using their first names. Most of them used to live in the affordable, Knolls of Newgate apartments, but moved to the London Towne community because Knolls was leveled to make way for luxury condominiums.

Wellspring had already held five, community meetings about immigration in Centreville so, explained member Alice Foltz, "We thought that, if we were going to talk about them, we should talk with them. These are human beings living among us and we need to care about their health and safety while they’re here."

Wellspring’s Mike Morse said the group learned recently that, often, immigrants are forced to pay "exorbitant rent for crowded spaces that are unhealthy and unsafe," and wondered if that was the case with any of the laborers.

"The prices are high and there are not many comforts of life," replied Giovane, 29. "We pay $1,600-$2,000 a month, including utilities — water and electricity or gas." He said there are usually five to seven people per home.

"Does anyone here have a car?" asked Shaiko. Giovane said most of them have bikes, but Miguel and Teodoro, both 25, and Chinto, 27, don’t, so they walk.
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Keyport group promotes harmony between cultures

This class teaches English to the parents of immigrant children. DP

Cultural Harmony Program aims to help immigrants assimilate
BY DENNIS JORDAN Correspondent On a Thursday afternoon, long after most schoolchildren and teachers have put aside textbooks, chalkboards and lockers for the day, some of the classrooms at Keyport Central Elementary School are still abuzz with lessons.

On this particular Thursday, two students occupy two front-row desks and listen as the teacher standing in front of them explains proper past-tense verb usage and pronunciation.

"I taked?" one student answers. "I took," the teacher corrects.

"I seeing?" the other student suggests. "I saw," the teacher responds.

"Picture is pronounced pik-chur," the teacher says while writing the phonetic spelling on the board.

It is a scene not uncommon in schools across the United States: students staying after school to receive one-on-one help with a teacher.What is unique about this session is that the two students in the classroom in Keyport are adults with children of their own.

The teacher is not a school employee, but a volunteer tutor, and the class being taught is English as a second language (ESL), a course reserved for non-English speakers.

The two students today, Lindelia and Ayla, are immigrants from Colombia and Turkey, respectively, and have children enrolled in Keyport Central Elementary.
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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Document Jam Could Keep Immigrants from Voting

The Immigration Dept. is working to clear the backlog, but some people might not get their citizenship papers in time to vote this year. DP

By Larry Tung To many immigrants, the right to vote in the United States represents the full realization of their American dreams and a validation of many years of hard work and struggle. It means that they are active members of the American society and equal to native-born Americans -- at least in the eyes of the law.

This year, though, many immigrants who thought they would be able to vote in the November presidential election may not be eligible because of delays in processing their applications for citizenship. Because of a rapid rise in applications, the federal government has been taking an average of 16 to 18 months to review the applications, up from around seven months a year ago.

Even the Department of Homeland Security, which has responsibility for reviewing the applications, concedes that a problem exists. "There may be a significant number ... that have applied at this date that don't make it through" in time for the election Homeless Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told a recent congressional hearing.

In an effort to pressure the administration to clear the backlog of citizenship applications by legal immigrants, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF) in New York filed a class-act lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security to demand that the immigration authorities to complete hundreds of thousands pending naturalization petitions in time for the new citizens to vote in November.

"It is insulting to the people who applied for citizenship," said Cesar Perales, PRLDEF's president and general counsel. "Especially after they learned English and passed the civics and history test to qualify for citizenship, they still have to wait. They should have all been ready to cast their vote as American citizens in November. ... It is very typical of the American government. They don't care about the immigrants. They don't want them to be a part of the American society."
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Belmont Park's Backstretch Plays Home To a Most Unusual Day-Care Center

Owners and trainers of million dollar race horses have subsidized a day-care center for the pre-school children of their immigrant workers. DP

Is there a stranger location for a day-care in New York? Don't bet on it

by Keith Greenberg Immigrants have always done the dirty work at Belmont. Once, the backstretch was dominated by Irish, then Haitians, and—since the 1980s—immigrants from Mexico, Chile, Peru, and other Latin-American countries.

Just beyond the stable gate at Belmont Park, within earshot of the galloping fillies and disgruntled gamblers, 2,000 employees labor on the racetrack's backstretch. Secluded on 400 acres by language and the peculiar codes of the track, they muck out the stalls, shove the horses into the starting gate, and hold the animals' legs as fresh shoes are nailed into their hooves.

As a rule, they speak Spanish and begin the day at about 5 a.m. Because so many have children, this presents a monumental problem. After all, there aren't many day-care centers on the border of Queens and Long Island that accommodate workers adhering to farmers' hours.

Until recently, the children were left to fend for themselves, hanging out in cars or trainers' offices, or sitting home and watching novelas with older siblings, who'd miss school themselves. Another option—according to Donna Chenkin, director of the Belmont Child Care Association—was being wedged into "illegal babysitting" arrangements, accompanied by a dozen or so other kids and one weary overseer with little incentive to teach.

Then, in 2003, Chenkin's organization started the first day-care center on the grounds of an American racetrack, opening the doors at about 4:45 a.m., seven days a week, 365 days a year. "These are million-dollar horses," Chenkin explains, "and you can't just let them out. Their owners need them exercised and fed every single day."
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Education key to assimilation, study says

Arab American women see their education as most important in raising their family, not for a career. DP

By Daniel Tedford Far fewer Arab American women, 67.5%, get jobs compared to white women, 82%, according to the 2000 U.S. census.

While some may see this as a troubling trend that points to inequality, some Arab American women would disagree, according to a recent UCI study.

For some Arab American women, getting an education is an asset, not to achieve career goals, but to help raise a family, according to the study published in the April issue of the American Sociological Review.

“Education comes into play because educated women have more skills and resources needed to navigate the American social system,” author of the study and UCI professor Jen’nan Read said. “The fact that female education is highly valued suggests stereotypes are off.”

According to census data, while more white educated women are working, more Arab American women are educated by comparison with 37% of working-age Arab American women having received a bachelor’s degree or higher, while 29% of working-age white women have the same education among their peers.

“[In our culture] woman have often relied on their husbands for money, their home and food,” UCI political science major Zeinab Najaf said. “My mom does not have an education, and the values that she instilled in me were to get an education and do the things she couldn’t do.”
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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Kids interview new immigrants

What a great idea! These third and fourth graders are interviewing immigrants, learning what they did to get here and to understand their lives. This is a rare chance for them to ask and get answers to their questions. DP

By CORI URBAN GREENFIELD - "I got here by the airplane," Soeun Vomg, a Buddhist monk from Cambodia, told two Greenfield Center School students who were interviewing him as part of their study of immigration.

Elijah R. Mishkind, 9, a fourth-grader at the school, and 9-year-old Sasha A. Richard, a third-grader, asked Vomg a dozen questions their 20-member class prepared for eight visitors from the English for Speakers of Other Languages program at the Center for New Americans here recently. They wanted to know why their visitors emigrated to the United States, how they got here, what life was like in their native countries and what languages they speak.

The new Americans' class include people who hail from Kosovo, Moldova, China, Guatemala, Cambodia, Tibet and the Dominican Republic. As they learn English, they appreciate opportunities to practice their new language.

"I am very happy (to visit Greenfield Center School) because I want to know about the English language," said Vomg who now lives in Leverett. "I stay here. I must know English language."

Polina I. Donceva, of Greenfield, came from Moldova. She enjoyed her visit to the school because she likes children. "I like to meet with other people, and, when I speak with other people, my English become better," she added.

Diane K. Worth, the teacher of the English class, said her 10 students thought it was a "wonderful idea" to visit the school and be interviewed by the children because it would "be great for their English" and for the children to learn about immigrants.

Fourth-graders Jack H. Samuels and Rory R. Braun, both 9, agreed that it's better to learn by talking to people who have emigrated than only to read about immigration. "It's interesting to talk to people," Rory said. "It's easier," Jack added.

After reading a newspaper article about the English class, the children in the third- and fourth-grade class taught by Emily T. Cross and Annie R. Winkler invited the older students to visit their children and talk about their experiences as immigrants. "They were super excited to ask them questions about immigration," Winkler said.

"We wanted to interview them and learn what their experience was coming from wherever they came from," explained fourth-grader Vivian S. Brock, 10. "They're real people, and they can express their feelings more than books can."

Vivian said it was good for the immigrants to visit the school "to know somebody here and to know that other people know they exist."

Cross said the Center School teachers seek ways to give students exposure to thinking from different perspectives. "Thinking about immigration from different points of view and meeting people they wouldn't meet in their everyday lives and hearing about their experiences" enriches the students, she said.

As a follow-up to the interviews, the children will make thank yous to the person they interviewed. That thank you will "take any form meaningful to their conversation," Winkler said - perhaps art inspired by what the immigrant described.

Educational Barriers: Area Schools Teach English to Children 'Ready to Learn'

This shows how teachers who only speak English are successfully helping children from many countries, together in the same class, to learn English. DP

By Janet Blackmon Morgan, The Sun News Alaa Ismail is careful writing her name in the upper left corner of a blank piece of paper.

She bears down hard with the pencil as she erases her first try. She writes it again, then leans back to inspect her work.

"I know the answer," she says in a whisper, rehearsing what she will say if called on by her teacher. "I can write it: 'The seed will grow another flower.' I can write it."

Her teacher, Ann Pond, has spent the better part of an hour reading, pantomiming and puckering her lips to form the beginnings of "root." Her lessons are given between the outbursts of Myrtle Beach Primary School children as each one vies for her attention.

"This is a noisy classroom," she says with a laugh. "But it's important for them to be comfortable saying the words, you know? They know they can talk in here and practice speaking. That's all part of it -- learning. They can talk in here without being uncomfortable or judged. They can roll the words around and learn the words, the way they work, what they mean. It builds them up and takes away some of that isolation they may be feeling."

Students, such as Ismail from Morocco, sit side by side with others like Murod Pedamatov from Uzbekistan. The area's country roll call includes China, Egypt, France, Germany, Japan, Greece, Vietnam, Russia and Albania. But the school systems and individual teachers say a majority of the students are from Mexico or other Spanish-speaking countries.
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New program for healthy food choices

This class teaches immigrants from many countries to read food labels and understand what foods are healthy. These people are used to buying fresh foods every day and don't know how to buy, cook and eat the way we should. DP

The University program will help non-English speakers modify their diets.
By Riham Feshir University student Ilhan Omar is teaching a new kind of English-as-a-Second-Language class.

She works with Simply Good Eating for English Language Learners, a program designed to help non-native English speakers understand the meaning of food contents and make healthy choices.

"You can't really be teaching healthy eating unless you teach how to read a label," Omar said.

Figuring out the amounts of sugars, fats and calories in processed foods can be difficult for non-native English speakers, said food science and nutrition professor Joanne Slavin.

"People come to this country and the food sources are very different," Slavin said.

Omar's students come from countries that include Morocco, Mexico, Ethiopia, Iran and Russia.

Many immigrants are used to purchasing natural foods in their home countries, but when they move to the United States, it's cheaper to buy processed foods, Omar said.

According to the Center for Immigration Studies, roughly one of every six immigrants and their U.S.-born children are living in poverty, a number that's 50 percent higher than the poverty rate for nonimmigrants and their children.

"They have such a limited income," she said. "When they go to the store, it's really hard to buy the fresh fruits and vegetables."
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Schools reach out to Spanish-speaking parents

These English classes are helping parents learn, so they can help their children. They can help with schoolwork, can especially be able to communicate with the teachers. DP

By Rhiannon Meyers, The Daily News citizenship classes Karina Vasquez Lopez attends on weeknights are as much for her infant son as they are for her.

The classes at Galveston’s L.A. Morgan Elementary School library are helping Lopez, who recently immigrated from Mexico, learn English and study for a citizenship test. Her real goal, however, is to help her son with his homework when he starts school.

On a recent weeknight, Lopez and eight other immigrants crowded into plastic chairs built for elementary students and pored over maps of the United States in a class offered through a partnership between Galveston’s public school district and College of the Mainland.

As the state’s Hispanic population grows, public schools are rethinking the ways they communicate with Spanish-speaking parents. They are offering English and citizenship courses, translating school documents, dubbing audio recordings of board meetings in Spanish and hiring interpreters in an attempt to reach parents who historically have not been deeply involved in their children’s education.
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Artist who drew sign to protect immigrants reflects on lives saved

This man is the artist who designed the sign that shows an immigrant family darting across a highway. It warns drivers to be aware of these people and has saved many lives since 1990 when the signs were first put up. DP

John Hood's drawing, which went up on signs near border areas in 1990, has become an iconic image of the U.S. immigration problem

By SCOTT GOLD, Los Angeles Times On the fifth floor of Building Two of the state Department of Transportation's San Diego compound, a bear of a man with a quiet voice sits in a cubicle straight out of "Dilbert."

He is surrounded by blueprints of overpasses and trucking lanes. There are photos of his son, training seminar certificates, cups of Jell-O and bottles of Tabasco, the remnants of 27 years at the same job, 27 years of eating lunch at his desk, 27 years of unremarkable government bureaucracy — with one notable exception.

"Here it is," says John Hood, rifling through a portfolio. The drawing he pulls out was done as a prototype; it is crude and a bit frayed. But its characters, captured in silhouette, are instantly recognizable.

There is a father, leading the way with a clear sense of urgency, bent at the waist. A mother, running behind him, despite the prim dress that hugs her knees. A little girl, holding her mother's hand, unable to keep pace, her feet barely touching the ground, her pigtails — everyone knows the pigtails — flowing behind.

In 1990, the image was projected onto black vinyl, traced with a knife blade, glued onto yellow signs, topped with one word — CAUTION — and placed on the shoulders of freeways, mostly along Interstate 5 north of the Mexican border.

The sign served as a warning that drivers could encounter people racing across the Interstate — most of them trying to get from Mexico into the United States. It would become one of the most iconic and enduring images associated with the nation's war over illegal immigration. And it would leave John Hood, now 59 and preparing to retire, conflicted and ambivalent about his strange legacy.
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Saturday, April 05, 2008

An English sentence

A smart, creative judge: he knows these people need English to succeed and a little compassion from this judge and others will probably save their lives. DP

By staff reporters The four Spanish-speaking defendants before Luzerne County Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. probably didn't need to know the language to know they were looking at an English sentence.

Earlier last week, they had pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a robbery in Hazleton. However, instead of throwing the book at them, Judge Olszewski imposed an unusual sentence.

They are required to return to his court a year from now to take an English test and show that they can speak and write the language, reports The Associated Press. If they fail, they will serve the full two years of their four-to-24-month sentence. The judge said the ruling was not meant as punishment.

In fact, it's the definition of compassion.

They can avoid incarceration by learning what assimilation -- and many other words -- mean in America.

Proficiency in their new tongue will make it that much easier for them to become part of the community instead of apart. And that will be better for them, their loved ones and the U.S.

Learning English was a rite of passage for many who were guided by Lady Liberty's light through the golden door and into their new home. They understood that the sooner they assimilated, the sooner they would be Americans.

In addition to everything else they must learn this year, the four had better know how to say, "Thank you, your honor."

“Bright spot? Positive attitude about immigrants”

A majority of Californians believe immigration is a benefit to their state. DP

Public Policy Institute of California

Excerpt from page 5 of Californians and Their Government, PPIC Statewide Survey “Despite all the economic and political negativity, Californians are basically positive on immigration. A majority of state residents (59%) believe immigrants are a benefit to California because of their hard work and job skills, compared to 34 percent who say they are a burden because they use public services. Belief that immigrants benefit the state has increased substantially over the past decade: In 1998, only 46 percent of Californians held this view. 'Conventional wisdom would predict that attitudes about immigrants would deteriorate as economic conditions worsen, but that hasn’t happened recently,' says Baldassare.

“What about attitudes toward illegal immigrants? Here again, state residents take a positive view. Two-thirds (66%) think illegal immigrants should be allowed to apply for work permits that would let them stay and work in the United States, about the same percentage as one year ago (64%). Strong majorities of
Democrats (73%), independents (62%), and likely voters (60%) believe that illegal immigrants should be allowed to apply for work permits, while Republicans are divided (48% should be allowed, 50% should not). Taking it a step further, seven in 10 Californians (72%) think most illegal immigrants who have lived and worked in the United States for at least two years should be given a chance to keep their jobs and apply for legal status; only one-quarter (25%) believe these immigrants should be deported. This supportive attitude is shared by majorities across all political parties (Democrats 80%, independents 72%, Republicans 52%) and among likely voters (65%) and is unchanged since December (72%).”

Full report is at

Toledo activist helps generations of immigrants

This wonderful woman has helped hundreds and hundreds of people in her community. Every community needs at least one person like her. DP

By ALEX M. PARKER, BLADE STAFF WRITER more than a half-century, she was known as the madrina - the godmother.

Ruth Garcia, now 87, fulfilled the custom by overseeing the baptisms of hundreds of newborns at the former Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission Church. But she also became the godmother of hundreds more: immigrants who came from Texas and Mexico in the 1940s, speaking little English and knowing little about the city.

"I felt it was my duty to help them," Mrs. Garcia said.

Since then, she has established "La Voz del Barrio," an organization of more than 200 local families. As a community activist, she led voter registration drives and spearheaded petition efforts to reform U.S. immigration laws and recently was given a lifetime achievement award by the Adelante Latino Resource Center.

Born in Omaha, she came with her family to Toledo in 1932 after a hailstorm devastated their community. She became involved in Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission Church, a church with a large Spanish-speaking congregation and an Irish priest, becoming the madrina or comadre - the godmother who witnesses baptisms, weddings, and other sacraments. In 1943, she became the church's president.

Through her involvement in the church, she met many of the immigrants when they came to Toledo in the 1940s, speaking little English and often forced to live in difficult conditions.

"So many didn't speak English," Mrs. Garcia said. "I wanted them to know what was happening."

Specifically, she wanted them to know that voting is a crucial part of being an American.

"It is very important that if they live here, they vote," Mrs. Garcia said.
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