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Breast cancer rates
English as a Second Language
To the Editor,

I am a radiologist and the head of breast imaging at UNC. Obviously the article on breast cancer and nuclear plants in the Dec.-Jan. issue of The Prism was of interest to me.

There was one factual error in the article that I want to bring to your attention. In paragraph 6, the author states, "However, it is known that breast cancer rates are even higher among African-American women; in fact this disease is their second largest cause of death."

In fact, African-American women have a lower rate of breast cancer than white women, but they do have a higher death rate from the disease. It is not known whether this is because of lack of access to care, so that it is just a matter of fewer diagnoses of the kinds of breast cancer that would not really lead to higher death rates or whether biologically African-American women have different types of tumors. In fact, Beth Newman at the UNC School of Public Health is running an epidemiological study based in eastern North Carolina to try to ascertain the answer to that exact question.

I hope this is clear to you and that you can correct this error for your readers. Obviously, one incorrect fact can really make one question the correctness of the entire article, most of which I have no basis for judging.

I hope this is helpful to you.

Etta Pisano
Associate Professor of Radiology
Chief of Breast Imaging
UNC-Chapel Hill

To the Editors:

First, I'm not sure how The Prism handles feedback to articles written. Perhaps you can accept my ideas as possible topics for continuing coverage on the issue of English as a Second Language (ESL) in NC.

With a few minutes to relax, I opened up The Prism and was thrilled to find your solid coverage on education. I think the idea to periodically have a special edition focused on education is an overdue step in the direction towards building a stronger bridge between activism and education.

Briefly, I've been working in ESL for almost five years now. I work in Chapel Hill for the Durham Technical Community College Adult ESL Program. I teach adult immigrants what we call "competency based education," or communication based on survival skills.

I work part-time, about 12.5 hours a week. I'm planning on getting a Master's of Arts in Teaching Foreign Language - Spanish. This might seem suddenly irrelevant but it's not.

If I could work full-time in ESL, I would. As it is, my colleagues and I are capped at part-time hours because of the lack of funding you cited in the article. Our program is funded by grants and the grants, as we are routinely told, are extremely limited. For this reason we are strictly paid for our 'in class time' only. The time spent planning, helping students, doing required administrative documentation, and improving the program is not paid for.

When I first started working in ESL I was moved by the opportunity to work with people from all over the world (the Latin population is in the minority of people coming to these classes), and to help make a positive impact in their lives was the most gratifying work I'd ever done.

At first I was drawn to literacy work within ESL. In other words, helping students learn a second language while teaching them literacy skills for the first time. After a short time I began to see despite all the good intentions in the world, how the system was set up to make reaching the people who need the classes and live and stay in the area impossible.

Right now there are few literacy students who make it to and stay in our Program. In order to effectively reach and teach these students, you need money to recruit (go out there and get them) , and you need money to provide 'one on one' instruction. Ask anyone who teaches literacy in a student's first language how hard it is to make steps towards independent learning. Imagine teaching literacy in a second language when you have no real means of giving encouragement or explanations.

I've watched the program continue as is, without implementing changes in its structure. The state claims all we need to add a special literacy class is provide the "numbers" = literacy students, and the state will provide more funding. But how do we keep literacy students long enough in our classes to be counted? It's an old adage in adult ESL that a student stays in your class only if their needs are being met. With 25-40 students registered to each teacher, literacy teaching becomes obsolete. We now have a program that doesn't meet literacy students' needs, and they're not in the classes.

Finally, I need to point out that while the incoming immigrant population is on the rise, consider that a lot of these people are visitors. Some stay three months and some stay three years, and this includes the population of ESL public school children. Most of my adult students are wives, husbands, family members, and friends of people connected to the universities, RTP, and other big business (Nortel, Honda).

The classes I give are catered to these people who are mostly well-educated. Most of these people are here for a relatively short time and will not be coming back. Upon finding out what I do for a living, most people automatically ask me how I like working with all the Latinos they see walking around town. I tell these people that I don't usually teach Latinos but I work with some of them in a restaurant, my second job.

Most Latinos are here for an indefinite amount of time. They are here to make money and this usually gets in the way of coming to an ESL class. Unless they are "formally" educated, most Latinos are laborers, and guess what - their literacy and/or learning skills are usually weak. I tread dangerously on speculation, but it seems that most are here as a last stitch effort to make a living ... can anyone point and say "here's at least one way NAFTA sits in our backyard."

So instead, I'm busy teaching the well-educated who could probably getby without their ESL class while I can think of at least 50 faces I've seen and talked to, who remain marginalized in the community, not able to communicate, or become a part of the community whether they stay or not.

And what about me? After five years of watching nothing change (we have made efforts and on our own time) I've decided that until the country, the government, and the state make a positive and definite step towards supporting ESL, I cannot risk my stability on ESL. Instead I'm trying to become certified to teach Spanish.

I'm seeing a trend here though. UNC-CH claims that it must down-size its Education program. Despite a growing ESL population at its doorstep, UNC-CH cut out its ESL certification program. Though there seems to be student interest in the MAT program I've decided to apply to, the program is limited to six applicants. I can't imagine we've come to a place where people want to become teachers and the state can't come up with the money to train them.

I suppose there are bigger priorities out there.

I think today it's the Superbowl.

Jen Serio
Sent via e-mail

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