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The Prism

  To the editor,
This letter is regarding two past issues of your publication (Dec./Jan. and Feb.) regarding English as a Second Language. First of all, I am impressed by the article and follow-up letter to the editor, which describe the lack of support ESL students receive in NC public schools and community colleges.

Both Holzwarth and Serio describe the lack of teacher education programs in the field of ESL. While it is true, UNC-Charlotte is one state university which offers ESL teacher education program, beyond UNC-Charlotte there are three other schools in the NC state system which have ESL programs: Appalachian State University, East Carolina University, and UNC-Greensboro. Furthermore, it is rumored that private schools such as Meredith in Raleigh, and Barton in Wilson have or are in the process of developing ESL teacher education programs.

The state programs are limited in that they allow limited numbers of students, or are "locked" within a masters program, school of education, or are tied to confining conditions. Not surprisingly, NC is not unique in its lack of ESL teacher training programs. I learned at the Int'l TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) Convention & Exposition, that Pennsylvania state does not offer any ESL teacher training programs.

The crisis is a national crisis which needs to be fought at the National, State and Local levels. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that according to Lily Wong Fillmore, the Los Angeles Unified School District spends less money per student than any other district in the country. Given that the LA district serves the single largest population of new immigrants, this reality is indicative of how our nation feels towards our newest immigrants.

While it is true that NC currently has no laws or monetary allowance sanctioned for the education of ESL students, the state is subject to federal law. The state of NC-DPI conveniently places the responsibility on each county. Certainly, this divide and conquer strategy is effective. Those who are most adversely effected, the newest and poorest immigrants, are those least likely to take legislative action against their local school systems.

According to the Office of Civil Rights, the Bilingual Education Act of 1968 places several responsibilities on public institutions including: identifying national origin minority students using a home language survey, assessing language proficiency, diagnosing instructional needs, and establishing an alternative program which meets the limited English proficient students' needs for English language instruction. Obviously, as Holzwarth and Serio described, many school systems fail at meeting these requirements. As director of Pangea Associates, I witness the arbitrary education and support of NC public and community college ESL and mainstream teachers. Certain counties, and community colleges consistently send and pay for their staff to attend How to Teach ESL seminars that Pangea Associates offers, while limited funds prevent others from sending their most eager teachers who want further education in the field. Individual teachers are at the discretion of their individual district or community college administrator. (Not to mention, the plight of students effected by often well-meaning, but untrained teachers).

I propose that individuals and organizations who are sympathetic to our nation's newest immigrants take steps at both the local and national levels. Organizations such as the NABE (National Association of Bilingual Educators), and TESOL, Inc. (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) have political arms which work toward systemic change.

Furthermore, as director of Pangea Associates, I suggest individuals educate themselves as to "How to teach ESL." Pangea Associates offer open and customized workshops in teaching strategies. Our program is not a certification program for public school teachers, however it does feel a void in the absence of training within the field. Pangea offers an introduction to ESL for those unexposed, a review for the trained, and an expansion for professionals. A part of Pangea Associates mission is to make such information available to the general public. The more each of us is capable of assisting new English learners, the more capable all of us will be in striving towards change in literacy and language education.

Ironically, during revision of this letter to the editor, I received a copy of an e-mail which was sent to numerous recipients labeling Pangea Associates trainings as a "quick fix." The e-mail originated from Bonnie Parsons, the president of Carolina TESOL. As a member of the organization I am appalled by the fact that Ms. Parsons has never attended Pangea's workshops, nor has she ever spoken to an associate within our organization, yet felt qualified to make such an assessment. This seems to be a blanket statement against private trainers in the field of ESL and languages. When speaking with the international TESOL office, the executive director was non-supportive of Bonnie Parson's statement. Already perplexed by the plight of ESL learners, I now am left in more of a quandary: how can we anticipate improved communication between cultural groupings and language minorities, if we fail to respect, complement and understand each other's efforts within the field?

Lori A. Ventura
Chapel Hill


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