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Enhanced Programming and Pre-Screening Could Uplift and Empower Young Immigrants and Dual Language Learners

By Nicole Akoukou Thompson staff@latinpost.com | Jan 21, 2015 12:14 PM EST

Enhanced programming could uplift young immigrants and dual language learners, and uncover cognitive developmental and educational differences among these young pupils and their monolingual counterparts. But, for this to transpire, states must implement early language assessments in early ed programs to offer a clear depiction of the educational experiences of these young learners.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, more than one in 5 school-aged children (21 percent) speak a language other than English in their homes, resulting in the undeniable presence of bilingual children, who are wadding through the education system. The number of dual language learners has escalated alongside the growing number of immigrant and U.S. born Spanish-dominate students.

An estimated 98.5 percent of Hispanic/Latino preschool children are born in the United States, and 46.2 percent of this Latinos have at least one immigrant parent, leading to a spike in dual language learners, according to The Development of Young Children of Immigrants in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. That said, only 40 percent of pre-K programs in 40 states require the screening and language assessment of children classified as dual language learners, according to the New America Foundation.

Few programs utilize home language surveys to pre-screen children or put policies in place to make translators and bilingual staff accessible to child who need them. And despite large Latino populations, California, Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, New York and New Mexico are among the top states that fail to report the number of dual language learners populating the classrooms. 

Bilingual children, Hispanic children and children with immigrant backgrounds have lower participation rates when it comes to center-based programs and Head Start pre-K programs, when compared to their English-dominate white or Asian counterparts (50 percent compared to 70 percent). And this is likely due to fact that many Spanish-dominate parents feel that they aren't informed about supplemental programming, according to the National Association for Bilingual Education.  Enrollment trends among Hispanic subgroups were also exposed by the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) and the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), showing that around 60 percent of U.S.-born Hispanic children were enrolled in pre-K programs compared to just 45 percent of Hispanic DLLs with immigrant backgrounds. 

Programs can be less welcoming to children whose primary language is a language other than English. Because there's inaccessibility to bilingual staff and relevant programmatic goals, children struggle with strong social-emotional growth, resulting in academic development issues, isolation, social limitation, difficulty communicating with others, attendance issues, frequent tantrums and excessive shyness as the child attempts to access their second language. This is particularly unfortunate because many Latino parents rely on Head Start and similar programs to help to foster kindergarten readiness skills. 

Observational assessment and screening for language proficiency are the keys to addressing needs and designing programs that encourage language and social development. Physical, social-emotional and cognitive development is hinged on proper language proposition. And an assessment of day-to-day social and language interactions would allow for a reinterpretation of a child's " bad" behavior. Assessments should include at-home educational involvement, and intersecting with well-stocked libraries. 

Also promoting decisive instructional decisions and inclusive activities and routines for second-language learners will likely boost early education enrollment. Measuring and screening helps to predict Spanish and English oral skills, literacy skills and vocabulary skills for vulnerable early learners, closing achievement gaps in vocabulary writing, math and reading for these students later in life. And it can determine if children are in need of special support services.

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