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WYSO's Lewis Wallace interviewing Trotwood-Madison High School teacher Alicia Pagan.00000173-90ba-d20e-a9f3-93ba72ce0000Graduating Latino is WYSO's series on education for Latino students in the Miami Valley, produced in partnership with Think TV. It's part of the public media initiative American Graduate, which is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.In much of the Miami Valley the Latino population has gone from about 2 percent in the mid-2000s, to 4 percent now. Around half the local Latino population is from Mexico, which means the other half represent a big cross-section: many Puerto Ricans, and people from Central and South America. The population is a mix of foreign-born and U.S.-born representing a diverse set of experiences.The launching point for this series is a persistent disparity in high school graduation rates between white and Latino students. In 2012 the graduation rate for white students in Ohio was 86 percent; for Latinos, it was 68, and for Black students it was 61 percent.  Those racial and ethnic disparities also exist nationally, but the white/Hispanic disparity is much wider in Ohio than in the nation.Some local districts, especially Dayton, are looking at low graduation rates across the board. Latino kids fall through the cracks, but they’re not the only ones.The good news is, dropout rates in this country have been falling for decades now—for all students, and for Latinos especially. The percentage of Latino high schoolers to drop out completely went from 40 percent in 1972 to 15 percent in 2012. In the process of reporting these series we’ve met a lot of kids who are doing great, graduating and going to college. We also found that many of the kids who do drop out or don’t graduate on time are dealing with the same issues: the need to support their families, a belief that they can’t go on to college, or overwhelming life circumstances.The stories will range from preschool and kindergarten readiness to bilingual education to personal profiles of people dealing with not having legal status while trying to go to school. We’ll also hear about positive programs like El Puente in the Twin Towers neighborhood, Springfield’s Hispanic Outreach Program and a group of Puerto Rican Engineers working to mentor kids. We’ll visit high schools in Dayton and Trotwood. It’s by no means comprehensive, but we hope it will show a slice of what’s going on in this rich and diverse community.Look for stories from our whole news team from April 13-24 in our weekday news shows, Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as online every day. You can also access local stories from WYSO through your smartphone on wyso.org or through the free app NPROne.00000173-90ba-d20e-a9f3-93ba72cf0001 

In Dayton, A Dual Language Program Helps Students With Limited English

Kindergarten teacher Elly Mallen leads her class through a lesson on saying numbers and months in Spanish.
Ariel Van Cleave
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WYSO
Kindergarten teacher Elly Mallen leads her class through a lesson on saying numbers and months in Spanish.

About a quarter of the students who attend Ruskin Elementary School on the east side of Dayton’s don’t speak English as their first language. Of the 11 different languages spoken at the school, Spanish is the most prevalent—and it was the Latino students who inspired the staff at Ruskin to take a different approach to teaching. The school is in its third year of a successful dual language program.
 

On a recent morning, about 20 kids gathered on the carpet in one corner of EllyMallen’s kindergarten class. They practiced their months and numbers in Spanish while putting their hands on their shoulders and raising them high up into the air. Some kids started bouncing around, unable to control their excitement while shouting words in Spanish.

Students in Elly Mallen's kindergarten class at Ruskin Elementary School are using their Spanish skills during a morning lesson.
Credit Ariel Van Cleave / WYSO
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WYSO
Students in Elly Mallen's kindergarten class at Ruskin Elementary School are using their Spanish skills during a morning lesson.

The signs and posters in the halls at Ruskin Elementary are in both English and Spanish and conversation flows between the two languages. All kindergarten and first grade classes are half in Spanish, half in English, and teachers use what are called “bridge lessons” to move from one language to the other.  

Inside the other kindergarten class, the kids are working on a math problem. They need to figure out what they need to add to eight in order to get 14.

“Sometimes around puberty they reach this time in their teens where it’s harder to learn a second language," says their teacher, Elizabeth Toomey. She grew up in Texas along the Mexico border and spoke English and Spanish every day. She says mingling the languages together with kids at this age is best. "Even pronunciation-wise, I’m really amazed. It’s like they mimic these sounds and they’re picking up these words.”

Toomey has the students use more than just their brains during lessons.

“Whenever I teach a verb, an action, in Spanish, I try to connect it with a visual. And also, aside from the visual, I also try to connect it with an action,” Toomey says.

Kindergarten teacher Elizabeth Toomey is using cubes to help her students during a math lesson in Spanish.
Credit Ariel Van Cleave / WYSO
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WYSO
Kindergarten teacher Elizabeth Toomey is using cubes to help her students during a math lesson in Spanish.

Bilingual teachers are rare in Dayton Public Schools even as the immigrant population rises.

“Sometimes, it’s like we’re the little diamond in the rough,” principal Judith Spurlock says.

Ruskin is the only school in DPS that has a dual-language program.

“Each classroom has some Spanish books in them, but we’re hoping to increase that for next year,” Spurlock says.

And they want to teach Social Studies in Spanish, but it hasn’t been easy finding the books.

“Sometimes it’s hard to find publishers that have curriculum that matches our state standards in Spanish,” she says.

Spurlock says the program’s been especially helpful for kids who don’t speak English and may have a hard enough time getting through class, let alone state testing. She says students are quickly improving. According to one study, dual language programs help close the achievement gap between English learners and native speakers. Research also points to a social benefit for kids who are learning English.

But the principal says the bilingual environment isn’t just helping the students: the parents get something out of it, too.

Kindergarten students in Elizabeth Toomey's class write down their answers during a math lesson that's taught entirely in Spanish.
Credit Ariel Van Cleave / WYSO
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WYSO
Kindergarten students in Elizabeth Toomey's class write down their answers during a math lesson that's taught entirely in Spanish.

“They know that they can communicate, primarily, with their child’s teacher. We don’t have to ask for an interpreter,” Spurlock says. “And that makes a world of difference.”

The school has parenting classes on the weekends, and family game nights every month—a lot of the families are really involved.

“They love to walk their children to school. We have mothers, and grandmothers and fathers and grandfathers walk their children to school. Because it is that community,” Spurlock says.

The school is expanding its bilingual classes into the second grade next year.

Graduating Latino is WYSO's series on education for Latinos in the Miami Valley, produced in partnership with Think TV. It's part of the public media initiative American Graduate, which is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.