Monday, September 03, 2007

Better Odds

The school's site doesn't indicate how it accepts or recruits students, so I'm not certain if this is accessible to undocumented immigrants in California. If anyone has information I'd love to know more. -Patricia

A New High School for Oakland's Newest Immigrants
Alex Gronke|August 31, 2007

Ms. Chang, a First Year Teacher at OIHS, Introduces Students to English

These students are the very lucky ones. The ones granted tickets out of refugee camps in places like Thailand, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now sit in a classroom at Oakland’s first and only high school catering to the city’s newest immigrants.

Nearly 40 of the roughly 65 students who make up the freshman class of Oakland International High School arrived in the United States this summer. Housed in the former Carter Middle School campus in tranquil, leafy Temescal, the small alternative high school is patterned after high schools in New York City that have been successfully serving immigrants there for more than two decades. It’s a wonder that it has taken Oakland this long to found a school on the New York model.

The pitfalls facing recent immigrant students at places like Oakland High School and Oakland Tech are no secret. Even by the bleak standards of Oakland Unified, where drop out rates are high across the board, statistics show that the numbers are even worse for the 13,000 students in OUSD that the California Department of Education classifies as English Learners, according to Carmelita Reyes, the new school’s principal. “These kids are getting held up, they are not graduating,” she says.

Just up the street from Oakland International High School is Oakland Tech, a big city high school with 1,600 students. It’s where some of Ms. Reyes’ students would be if it weren’t for the new small school she helped start. At Oakland's traditional high schools, Ms. Reyes says, immigrant students who aren’t fluent in English are given an hour of language instruction a day. The rest of the time, they are expected to keep up with their classmates in math, science and history. It’s a system that doesn’t work.

Some 20 years after the New York City public school system recognized that immigrants were having a tough time in traditional schools, research shows that the international high schools are a remedy. In New York City, the four-year drop out rate is less than six percent for students enrolled at the schools known as Internationals. The drop out rate for English Language Learners at other New York City schools is more than 30 percent.

For Edward Ankomahena, 17 years old and newly arrived this summer from Ghana, Oakland International offers better odds. On Thursday morning, he sits in a cluster with three other students. The science class focuses on the English words he and his classmates will need when it comes time to pass the state’s exit exam, which has become the chief stumbling block for immigrant students.

Oakland International High School should help students succeed, says Lauren Markham, a refugee assistant with the International Rescue Committee, an organization that’s placed 20 students in Oakland Unified since May. Despite its high cost of living, Oakland remains a popular destination for the U.S. State Department to resettle the refugees it allows into the country. Ms. Markham says that more than a dozen new refugees are Oakland-bound in September. Among them, the high school age students will likely enroll at Oakland International.

No comments:

Post a Comment