In the process of reporting the Graduating Latino series, WYSO found out that Latino students who attend private schools in Dayton have a better chance at success than their public school counterparts and there are a few reasons why.
When Laura Yuqui first arrived in Dayton, she sent her son Jason to one of the city’s public elementary schools. And as she explained through an interpreter, things didn’t go well.
“I would go up to the school and they would call me all the time saying ‘oh, he did this.’ And he would behave badly during recess and he was bullying the other kids.”
Yuqui says her son was acting out because he has ADHD. But they didn’t even find that out until he moved to a private school where he immediately got help from a counselor. Yuqui says at the public school it was hard for her to connect with anyone on staff, especially with the language barrier. The whole thing was a setback.
“I think if he would have been given the help early on, he would have at least a little bit more of a learning capacity. And that he would not have the behavioral issues that he has today.”
But whether it’s an issue of learning disabilities or language barriers, the kind of focused attention Jason eventually received can be hard to come by in the Dayton Public School District.
Over the last 10 years, the Hispanic population has doubled in Dayton, and most families have sent their kids to public school. Belmont has become the go-to for Latino kids because of its location in east Dayton.
Diane Cline is the one full-time English as a Second Language teacher for 114 ESL students at Belmont High School, and one of only seven in the district. Cline has turned her classroom into a make-shift lunchroom where kids can get extra tutoring.
“They love to come in here. And they just love to have an opportunity. Sometimes they speak in their own language. A lot of times, kids come in here and they say one of the reasons they want to come is because they want to practice their English, and they’re not embarrassed in front of other ESL kids,” Cline said.
A lot of these kids just arrived in Dayton from other countries. The district says a quarter of the school’s Spanish speakers have come to the city in the last three years. Teresa Troyer is the ESL coordinator for the district. She says some have already had a solid education.
“But then for students who don’t have that educational background, if you don’t know the science in Spanish, it’s not going to help you to have someone to say these words in Spanish to you that you don’t know,” Troyer said.
So some students are learning English AND playing catch up in other subjects. And Belmont hasn’t been that successful in getting Latino kids to graduate. Last year only 55 percent of its Latino students received a diploma—and the overall graduation rate there is only 57 percent.
That’s significantly lower than Chaminade Julienne, which is a private Catholic high school downtown. The graduation rate there is 94 percent, though they don’t track graduation for Latino students. Admissions Director Brett Chmiel says unlike those new arrivals in public school, kids don’t transfer into CJ as often directly from other countries.
“The majority of our students coming in that are of Hispanic heritage are already equipped with English speaking skills,” Chmiel said.
Latino students only make up about 2.5 percent of CJ’s total population, though that’s likely to grow over the next few years.
And responding to that growth shouldn’t be hard: there’s minimal red tape and often programs can be put in place faster than at a public school.
Damon Asbury is with the Ohio School Board Association. He worked for Columbus City Schools in the 90s when students from Somalia started coming in droves. He says in those situations, districts create a to-do list.
“We’ve got to find some people who can interpret for us. We’ve got to find people who can instruct in that language. We’ve got to be able to assess the abilities of the student,” Asbury said. “And I think one of the things that often gets overlooked is you got to have some people who are working with the parents so they can become acculturated and understand how this new school setting works for them and what their role is. There have to be a lot of adjustments made.”
These adjustments are happening in Dayton, but they can take a while. And students who would have benefited may have already graduated, transferred or dropped out.
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.