A Charter School for Immigrant Children

August 14, 2011; Source: The Boston Globe | A proposal to establish the Somerville Progressive Charter School, geared specifically to immigrant children in Somerville, Massachusetts, has been submitted to the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The agency will decide by the end of February 2012 whether to grant the school its charter.

Selena Fitanides, the coordinator of the group behind the initiative, told the Boston Globe that the proposed K-8 school would serve “the needs of children in Somerville whose first language is not English—the children of fairly recent immigrants.” It would open in September 2012 with an initial enrollment of 180 and grow to about 425 students over five to seven years.

The U.S. Census estimates the City of Somerville to have over 21,000 immigrants, 28 percent of the municipality’s total population. About 9 percent of its residents identify as Latino and roughly another 9 percent as Asian. One in ten families live below the poverty line.

Somerville Progressive would offer bilingual students the chance to attend daily after-school enrichment programs in Spanish, Portuguese and French, all of which would also be available to native English-speaking enrollees. The school would have a strong focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills and would feature innovations such as extended learning time and collaborative learning in mixed-age groups. Fitanides said that the school would be “very student-centric, really focused on the individual and tailoring the curricular and instructional needs to that individual.”

Fitanides argues children of immigrants, particularly those from Spanish-speaking backgrounds, need a charter school. “We need to find a better way to educate those kids,” she told the Globe. “Our current system is not well suited to addressing their needs. We are losing a lot of these kids because they are dropping out of school.”

The founders of Somerville Progressive Charter School share the sentiments of many public-education reformers who have given our public schools a failing grade. President Obama has also touted charter schools as one solution to our ailing education system, although the verdict on their overall effectiveness is still out.

The concept behind this charter school is commendable. But like Somerville School Superintendent Tony Pierantozzi, I have a few questions and some “serious concerns.”

For starters, will the school enroll children of immigrants who need the help most or will it be a self-selecting pool of kids with parents who know how to work the system? What about immigrant children whose first language is neither English nor Spanish? Is a charter school the best way to improve the education of most immigrant children? Why not spend energy and resources in bolstering the public school system, which already educates most immigrant children?Erwin de Leon

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, August 24, 2011.

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