Lloyd Elementary teacher Ramona Richards puts one hand over her mouth and raises the other, signaling to the 1st-graders sitting on the carpet that they should be quiet. In Spanish, she tells them to cross their legs. “Ahora es tiempo para el desarrollo de Inglés,” she adds. Translation: “Now it’s time for English language development.”
As if a switch has flipped, her speech changes to English.
Back in July, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the creation of a city Office of New Americans intended to, in his words, “make Chicago the most immigrant-friendly city in the world.” Indeed, immigration continues to change the face of Chicago and the metro area. In the city, one in five residents is foreign-born, according to census data, and 12 percent of students are English-language learners. In the suburbs, the ELL population has doubled in a quarter of school districts, and educators are grappling with how to educate these students at a time when state dollars are shrinking.
In CPS, 12 percent of English-language learners are in the middle grades, and many are at risk of failing in high school. Why? Middle-grades bilingual students present two challenges to schools: teaching adequate English as well as increasingly tough academic content.
Census data show that a majority of the state’s Latinos—52 percent—now live in the Chicago suburbs. Just 38 percent live in the city. The shift has brought a sea change—and new challenges—to suburban schools that must educate a growing number of students whose native language is not English.
Of the 58 suburban school districts visited by state monitors in the past three years, not one district met all of Illinois’ tough education requirements for English-language learners, and nearly 40 percent—22 districts—failed to provide a bilingual program for all the students who qualified for it.