During my experience as an educator of middle school adolescents, especially during the past few years, there has been an emergence of an increasing number of Hispanic students who have sought a forum for examination or study of a myriad of issues such as a better understanding of bilingual education, their rights as juveniles in cases of arrests, parental involvement in adolescent health care decision making and the principle of confidentiality. It is not within the scope of this paper to examine all these issues and concerns. It is imperative to begin the foundations for a comprehensive set of related units for which this paper is the precursor. Two topics will be presented in this unit: bilingual education (origin, meaning, history) and an introduction of the juvenile justice system in Connecticut. This unit will be of particular interest for teachers that work directly with Hispanic students who have been in bilingual programs previous to entering the middle school grades. It can also be used in culture classes, History or Social Studies classes, and Foreign Language classes. The general objectives are to provide historical and factual information on the two topics delineated here and to create classroom ambiances that will facilitate the students’ development of oral, reading and writing skills. The sections of this unit can be used together or separately.
Queries about the origin and history of bilingual education have been presented by students who feel that it is a form of separatism and isolation for many of them. Many of these students stated that they feel they have spent too much time in bilingual classes which have left them with poor oral, reading and writing skills. The number of Hispanic students in the public schools is growing at an alarming rate. According to various sources, Hispanics make up more that 40 percent of the limited English proficiency population and more that 64 percent of the school-aged population with a non-English speaking background. Some statistics indicate that Hispanics are the fastest growing ethnic group in our society, with an increase of 39 percent from 1980 to 1989, more than five times that of the United States as a whole. This is according to the United States Chapter of the World Council for Curriculum and Instruction.
The need to be informed about issues and programs that impact their lives is more prevalent among those adolescents that live in poor or near poor families. According to one report of the U.S. Government, about 27 percent (8.27 million) of American adolescents (Ages 10-18) lived in poor or near poor families in 1988. Other very alarming statistics are found in the comprehensive study funded by the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development and written by Fred M. Hechinger. In the report,
Fateful Choices Healthy Youth for the 21st Century
, it is reported that certain racial and ethnic minority adolescents are far more likely than white adolescents to be in poverty or even under poverty levels. Half of Black, Hispanic, American Indian and Alaska Natives lived in poor or near poor families in 1988. Fifty percent of Black and thirty percent of Hispanic adolescents live in one-parent families, most of them in the poverty or below the poverty lines. In our urban communities in New Haven we have our share of these adolescents that predictably make some of the fateful choices mentioned by Hechinger because, as he explains, they often do not have the necessary factual information on many issues that confront them or because they have not been exposed to good role models in preadolescent years.
Besides presenting factual and historical information about knowledge for the students, an underlying objective of this unit is to have the students experience an ongoing interaction with role models in the community. Various professionals and organizations have already been contacted or will have been contacted by the end of the summer. A list of these resources are summarized in the bibliography section of this unit. Three of the most valuable resources are three practicing Hispanic judges in Connecticut. These three distinguished, contemporary Hispanic role models are: Judge Carmen Elisa Espinosa of Southington, the first Puerto Rican female to be named to the Superior Court, Judge Eddie Rodriguez of Easton, and Judge Jose A. Cabranes. These meritorious professionals will hopefully lead meaningful sessions with the teachers and students in understanding the genesis and need for bilingual programs, Hispanic role modeling and a working knowledge of the juvenile justice system in Connecticut.
The following synthesis on bilingual education and the juvenile justice system will provide the necessary historical and factual background for students to talk, read, and write about these topics with ease and in a well-informed and literate delivery. Each section of background information is followed by suggested lessons that can be implemented along with the group sessions that will be conducted by the volunteer judges and other resource persons.