The Role of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in Preparing New Citizens

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In 2014, Congress enacted the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to modernize adult education and workforce training. For many years, these two areas had been treated separately in federal policymaking and adults with limited English proficiency were frequently stuck in English classes for years before they could advance to developing any skills. Recognizing this disconnect, WIOA borrowed models from many community groups, including NCLR Affiliates, that combined English as a second language and job training into one program. However, many immigrants want to learn English for reasons other than to find a job, including like becoming a U.S. citizen. Both WIOA and proposed rules from the Department of Education—the agency responsible for regulating adult learning programs—make clear that funding must support workforce outcomes and cannot be used for other adult learning needs.

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At AAMA Sanchez Charter School, Our Teachers Understand Their Students’ Struggles

By Bianca Arriazo, National Latino Institute for School Leaders Fellow, NCLR

A 19-year-old high school senior walks into an office: “I just got kicked out of class again, Miss.”

“What happened now?” asks the person behind the desk.

He responds, “I was just resting my eyes.”

In moments like this educators realize they are the keepers of a student’s academic life. They understand there is a reason for this student being sleepy and they have to share his story with fellow educators. As a team, they have to develop a plan to keep him awake and engaged in his classes so he can make it to Graduation Day.


Photo: AAMA Sanchez Charter School

From an outsider’s view, the question lingers as to why this student is still in school and why he’s received multiple opportunities after acting out and being disrespectful. However, there’s more to this young Latino boy who wears baggy pants, has tattoos in the most random places, hates wearing his school uniform, and has poor attendance. He is being raised by a single mother who works all night at a warehouse. She is only able to tell him he needs to go to school but not able to give him a good reason. He tries to help by working odd jobs but he is influenced by his classmates, buddies, and surroundings and ends up spending his money and time frivolously. Soon after he becomes a father and faced with the urgency to mature and become responsible for another person. He gets a steady job but works long hours, sometimes until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. He knows he needs to graduate yet he has to overcome so many obstacles, just like countless other students in the public school system.

At AAMA Sanchez Charter School, our school population is 98 percent Latino, 48 percent of whom are English language learners. We are an open enrollment charter school and often serve as a second-chance school for students. Our teachers and staff make it a priority to establish relationships with our kids so when a student joins us, they know they are now part of our familia. Most of the time our staff becomes the rock in our students’ lives. Our teachers are not able to be traditional. They have to incorporate art, technology, and a student’s personal interests into every lesson so kids can stay engaged and awake in their classrooms. Our campus has to be mi casa for every student.


Photo: AAMA Sanchez Charter School

Our Principal, John De La Cruz, frequently reminds us “parents are sending us their very best.” With that in mind, we are at the beginning of another year and we will invest all our efforts and emotions on preparing for the many English language learner newcomers, as well as all the other Latino youth who will walk through our door on the first day. We know they will come to us with many needs and gaps in all areas, especially in English language acquisition. We also know they will have to face many social challenges, becoming teenage parents, battling drug addictions, reporting to their parole officers, and just making mistakes and maturing in general. Nevertheless, we also know it will be our mijos and mijas who become our future leaders and parents.

In the end, we may not exceed expectations in all testing areas, but we sure help create and close a chapter in each one of our student’s lives.

What the Common Core Means for Latinos in New York State

The Common Core State Standards is a reality in New York state, but what does it mean for the Latino community and how it will impact our students? We’re hosting a FREE webinar next week to explore this question. Register today to join us!


Why Teachers Will Love the Common Core State Standards

40x504_commoncore_72aYou’ve no doubt heard about the Common Core State Standards. The voluntary, state-led effort to establish academic standards in 44 states includes high benchmarks and a commitment to honing students’ critical and analytical skills. If implemented well, they hold great potential for making sure all our students are college- and career-ready once they graduate from high school.

Much of what has been written about Common Core has focused on the students, which is understandable, as they are the recipients of the instruction. There are also, however, great benefits for the teachers responsible for implementing these new standards in the classroom. In fact, we think that if you love teaching, you’ll love Common Core. What follows is a list of the top five reasons teachers like these new academic standards.

1. If you think the best approach to teaching is in a collaborative setting, then you’ll love Common Core because…

The standards are best  implemented through collaboration across grade levels and subjects. Under the new standards, teachers are encouraged to use innovative instructional strategies and methods designed to meet the needs of diverse learners.

2. If you love experiential learning, you’ll love Common Core because…

Their implementation doesn’t really allow for a “skill and drill” approach to learning. We all know how ineffectual rote memorization is when it comes to developing superior critical thinking skills and being college- and career-ready. The Common Core places a premium on these skills, which can best be taught using an experiential approach to learning.

3. If you teach English Language Learner (ELL) students, you’ll love Common Core because…

The Common Core State Standards stress development of language skills across all subjects and all domains (reading, writing, speaking, and listening). This is a significant element of Common Core, especially given the ever-increasing number of ELL students in need of adequate and equitable education.

4. If you like seeing students engaged, you’ll love Common Core because…

They  demand that children be active participants in their own education. Gone are the days of talking at kids in the hopes they are absorbing the information. Common Core State Standards have engagement at their roots because study after study has shown that active  engagement of students during the learning process is a key indicator for success.

5. If you want your kids prepared for college and career, then you’ll love Common Core State Standards because…

They are aligned to higher education standards that demand the skills students need to be successful in college and in their careers.

The Common Core State Standards are our best hope for ensuring our kids are well-served and college-ready, but we’ll need all our teachers on board for this effort to be truly successful.

A Second Chance for Justice

By Leticia Tomas Bustillos, Associate Director, Education Policy Project, NCLR

ModelsForChange_1Several years ago I attended a dedication ceremony for a new grant-funded program that would enable young men to acquire valuable skills in the trades: electrical work, plumbing, cabinetry, and others. As I walked around the cavernous room looking at the impressive displays of student work, I had to remind myself that I was at a juvenile detention center and that the 20 students in brown jumpsuits had been incarcerated for various offenses. What was not so difficult to forget were the faces of the incarcerated—all young men of color.

At this particular facility the statistics painted a bleak picture: over half of the young men were Latino and nearly one-quarter were Black. Of those, as many as 40 percent were identified as special needs and 40 percent were English language learners. These statistics are not unique to this setting, but rather evident in national figures which show that Latinos represented nearly one-quarter of all juvenile offenders in a residential facility in 2011. In fact, research indicates that Hispanics are 16 percent more likely than their counterparts to be adjudicated delinquent, 28 percent more likely to be detained, and 43 percent more likely to be waived to the adult system. More recent research of national trends suggests that despite juvenile justice reforms in the last decade, young men of color are more likely to be remanded to secure facilities, thus composing the largest population under confinement.

How these high-school-aged youth landed in the detention center I can only imagine, as our conversations were limited to their projects, the courses they were taking to acquire new skills, and what they hoped to do with these skills. What we do know is that systems which aim to be fair, such as our education and criminal justice systems, can perpetuate and exacerbate challenges unique to Latino youth, who are at tremendous risk of failing academically and falling prey to dangerous social situations, including drug abuse and gang affiliation. Data from the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division make evident that Latino youth are more likely than their peers to be suspended and expelled from our schools. Such outcomes may be explained by overexposure to under-resourced, overcrowded schools with teachers and counselors who are often ill-equipped to address the unique academic, financial, cultural, and socioemotional challenges these students face daily.

Despite the bleak picture, however, there is reason for hope. The skill-building program in this California juvenile detention center provides youth with practical experiences that would yield gainful employment upon release or, for those returning to school, credits toward graduation. In Philadelphia, Men In Motion In the Community (MIMIC) offers guidance and assistance to Latino youth who are at risk of dropping out of school or having contact with the juvenile justice system. Across the country, the Models for Change initiative has spearheaded investments in key areas of reform for the Latino community, including aftercare, community-based solutions, and dual-status youth, to name a few. Above all, with the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Models for Change aims to reduce racial and ethnic disparities and promote a more fair juvenile justice system.

Latinos in our country account for 16 percent  of the total population, and by 2035 one out of every three U.S. residents will be Latino. Today, 34 percent of Latinos are under the age of 18 and one in four students in K–12 schools in the U.S. is Latino. The future of our nation depends more on the potential of Latino children than ever before. While reform does not happen overnight, we can enact practices and funding mechanisms to support efforts that prevent our youth from engaging in risky behaviors, urging them to instead focus on academic and social pursuits that lead to safe, healthy, productive futures. For youth who are currently in the system, practitioners can implement high-quality educational and vocational programs that deliver skills applicable to the 21st-century workplace.

The focus must therefore be on educating young people and not always on incarcerating them. These kinds of programs support positive youth development, reduce the likelihood of recidivism, and facilitate the integration of youth back into our communities. However, it is imperative that community leaders and law enforcement work together to replace the image of a juvenile “justice” system that solely punishes with one that allows youth to correct their mistakes and envision a more hopeful future.

The young men I spoke with talked about becoming plumbers, carpenters, and electricians and even building their own homes. Others talked about the importance of reading their builder’s manual and how they had to improve their math and reading skills to get through their courses. Still others, who had never experienced academic success in a traditional setting but now have found it, talked about going to college for the very first time. These young men of color did not speak of reform or even change; they talked of second chances and new opportunities. Through reform, we can give them both in the name of justice.

In Search of SOMOS

By Rafael Collazo, Campaign Political Director, NCLR

George I. Sanchez students

It has been a rough winter in the East. After months of back-breaking shoveling and hoarding rock salt for survival, I was looking forward to a break from the cold. So, I shivered at the thought of going to upstate New York for a trip after it was booked. Indeed, I was met with a bitter blast as I arrived in Albany, New York, but things quickly heated up as SOMOS El Futuro, the conference I was there to attend,  got underway. SOMOS is a biannual event organized by the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force of the New York State Assembly and Latino leaders throughout the Empire State. SOMOS raises awareness of state policy issues from a Latino perspective. This year, featured speakers included New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

New York has played an integral, sometimes divisive, role in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) debate. And, rather unsurprisingly, the CCSS featured prominently at SOMOS. The CCSS are a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy. The standards were created by a state-led effort of teachers, parents, administrators, and education experts working together to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, their careers, and life, regardless of where they live.

After adopting the New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards in 2011, Governor Andrew Cuomo has come under fire from across the political spectrum over concerns around implementing the standards. The headlines have highlighted the attacks coming from the tea party, conservative ideologues, and even more progressive groups like the teachers’ unions. But what do Latino New Yorkers think about the Common Core, and how can NCLR help raise their voices in this heated debate?

Dia de Los Ninos 2013The SOMOS Conference answered many of those questions. There exists a passionate cadre of Latino elected officials, educators, and activists who believe Latino students can thrive with higher expectations, but who want to ensure that implementation sets up our children for success. I also encountered education activists that see the new standards initiative as a concrete example underscoring the historical inequities Latino children and English Language Learner (ELL) students have experienced in New York schools. Leaders such as Vanessa Ramos of our Affiliate, the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, have thoughtfully developed recommendations for both the State of New York and New York City on best practices for supporting Latino/ELL students within the Common Core Standards framework. Through my conversations with these inspiring champions, it became clear that Latinos in New York are ready to raise their voices in the Common Core State Standards discussion and are welcoming to NCLR’s support in this effort.

While frigid outside along the banks of the Hudson River, the camaraderie and resolve I encountered at this year’s SOMOS Conference warmed me up for sure and excited me for what the future holds. I look forward to rolling up my sleeves with leaders like Vanessa Ramos. Together we’ll make it clear that Latino children are ready to take on higher expectations.

Learning from Leaders: The Common Core & Latino-serving Charter Schools

The Common Core State Standards movement is well into the implementation phase and we want to make sure you’re ready for all that entails. Join us for our next “Learning from Leaders” webinar series for a talk Latino-serving charter schools can implement CCSS sucessfully. Click on the image to register or go here.

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Learning from Leaders: Strategies for Teaching Math to ELL Students

Today we’re hosting a webinar on how to employ good teaching strategies for English language learner success in mathematics. Sign up here and follow or join the conversation below!

Dual Language Learning: Benefits and Practice

(This was first posted to the Child Care Aware of America blog, Early Directions.)

By Lynette M. Fraga, Ph.D., Executive Director, Child Care Aware®  of America

Dia de Los Ninos 2013This is Part II of a three-part blog series with Peggy McLeod, Deputy VP for Education and Workforce Development with the National Council of La Raza.

Here Peggy discusses dual language learning and the benefits and implications for Latino children.

Lynette: Let’s set the foundation here: What does dual language learner (DLL) mean?

Peggy: For children ages birth to five, the term dual language learner is preferred as these children are in the process of acquiring their first language and also learning English as a second language. In K-12 education, the terms more commonly include English Learners (ELs) and Limited English Proficient (LEP). Dual language programs are designed to deliver instruction through both languages to language minority and language majority children with the goal of ensuring that all children become bilingual, biliterate, and develop cross-cultural competencies. Dual language programs are also known as two-way immersion or two-way bilingual programs.

“Children who know two languages often have higher levels of cognitive achievement than monolingual children and almost certainly will have a broader array of social and economic opportunities available to them as they become adults.” – U.S. Office of Head Start  Continue reading