Sunday, January 31, 2010


I spent the first ten years of my life growing up in the soft coal-mining region of the rural Allegheny Mountains of southeastern Pennsylvania.  Even as a young child I was aware that my town was small and secluded.  The one exception was the annual Cambria County Fair for about ten days before each Labor Day, when we would experience thousands of visitors to our town.

Many of my classmates worked on rural family farms.  I knew kids who participated in 4-H, who spent the whole year preparing for their Fair events and were so proud to share their projects with us at the start of school year each August.  

One of my uncles raced trotters each year.  Trotters are horses harnessed for racing - and I had dreams of caring for Uncle Tony's horses at a nearby barn where he kept them.  I enjoyed walking through the animal exhibits, wondering in amazement at the handmade textiles - quilts, blankets, and shawls - and sampling the blue-ribbon jams, and pies!  

I looked forward to riding the most popular rides on the fairway each year.  My neighbor and best friend at the time, Twyla Williams, got me interested in the stock car races.  Our houses were adjacent to the fairgrounds so at night we could hear the racing engines and enthusiastic crowds; we lay quilts on the grass in the yard to watch firework displays.

In the exhibition barns, I noted many speaking with wonderful accents.  Friends of my family had grandparents who were first generation immigrants from Italy and Poland and Germany.  All of the children I knew spoke English, though I realize it may not have been their first language.

More than 35% of people whose first language is not English live in my Town today -- and this is the case in many cities and towns. Many are limited English proficient.

It is extremely difficult for children to do well in school who do not understand what their teachers are explaining.  Language instructional programs, especially in public schools, should involve parents in planning, implementation, and evaluation.

While bilingual education programs are not part of the English Language Learner construct in Massachusetts, such programs guarantee limited English proficient (LEP) students access to educational opportunities. These programs allow LEP students to acquire a full command of the English language, and employ students' native languages to help them master challenging academic standards in all subject areas.

Strengthening this area is one key to closing gaps in proficiency for English language learners.