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Resource: How to Reach Out to ELLs of Mexican Heritage


LEARN NC, a program of the school of education of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has posted some articles about how educators can tailor educational programs to better include students with Mexican roots. The latest, "The Middle School Challenge for English Language Learners of Mexican Origin," mentions a program in Los Angeles, Achievement for Latinos Through Academic Success, that helps parents to better monitor their children's progress in school and navigate U.S. schools. The article explains the difference between social and academic language, but doesn't provide much help on how to teach academic language. It's worth reading because articles on how to best serve English-language learners at the middle or high school levels are rare.

The articles are strong on ideas for how to create a cultural bridge in schools for students of Mexican origin.


The biggest thing is to help them withstand the strong bias that people have against Mexican Americans or Mexican immigrants. They probably face the strongest prejudice and barriers today. Academic language can be taught in Spanish and there are bilingual programs that can help but some academic success will depend on the families and where education fits into their families lives and ideas. It's great to think you are going to send everyone to Harvard but an educator has to respect the family AND the student's wants and needs. If you've seen Real Women Have Curves, it is about a Mexican American student who gets support from her teacher when she'd like to go to college, that's great help. Some other students may have other plans. Many of my Ukrainian male students (who are Pentecostal refugees) will stop "feeling" for school about the 8th grade (when they would be able to stop in Ukraine) and increasingly reject school. There is only so much to do to encourage kids to graduate, some do, some don't but in this area and throughout the country they form trucking companies and go into the trucking business. They are also great mechanics. I don't change that. I can't. The females tend to focus more on school and have more of a drive to graduate. They often don't want to do more than go to the local community college and take nursing. Some actually do, but most get caught up in the pressure to marry and have children and they often can have 11 of them! At this point, this is what life in America is important to them. I also see Ukrainians as being more likely to be placed in special education classrooms - not sure why but the fact that they are less motivated in education might be some of the reason. At least in the middle to high school years. It could also be that they "look white" and the fact that their language learning issues are ignored. I see Mexican Americans who are working class as often being like my Ukrainian students with additional bias against their culture.

Creating cultural bridges is essential for all students who come from backgrounds that differ from the dominant group in school. To do so, it is important for teachers to learn as much as possible about their students' cultures and this is why resources like the ones you cite, Mary Ann, can be helpful. At the same time, teachers must always remember that differences WITHIN cultures are greater than differences BETWEEN cultures. Knowing about a child's cultural background must never substitute for knowing the child as a person. This means that we must understand each child as an individual and avoid making assumptions because that child happens to be Mexican, Ukrainian, or even white middle class. Cultural profiles can do more harm than good if they blind us to the child's individual personality, strengths and weaknesses.

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