Juan Moctezuma-Páyan, an educational assistant at Risen Christ School in Minneapolis, helps kindergartner Brandon Emmons with reading.
Helen Dahlman oversees a school with a student body that represents 23 countries and ethnicities. More than 40 percent of the students face English-language challenges.
But the president of Risen Christ School in south Minneapolis said a new study beginning this month will help her Catholic school and others like it in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to better understand and meet their culturally diverse students’ language-acquisition needs.
Friends of Catholic Urban Schools (FOCUS), an independent, non-profit organization affiliated with the archdiocese, has received a $340,000 grant from an anonymous foundation to help mostly inner-city schools that have a growing number of Asian, Hispanic, African and African-American students. Many are from low-income families.
Help for students, teachers
“Our study will examine the range of language skills that students as well as teachers bring to the classroom, and we especially will focus on how reading, writing and other English-language skills are best acquired in such settings,” said lead researcher Amy Fournelle Smith of the University of St. Thomas School of Education.
The team of three researchers also includes Marcia Reardon, an adjunct faculty member who supervises student-teachers, and Margaret Reif, a member of the department of teacher education.
The researchers will concentrate on five schools: St. Peter Claver, Trinity Catholic and St. Matthew in St. Paul; Blessed Trinity in Richfield; and Risen Christ.
Dahlman said she expects the study will give teachers additional skills and support to help children acquire English-language skills, including poor students who are at risk of falling behind.
“When typical, middle-class, native U.S. citizens come to school in kindergarten, they might have a vocabulary of four-to-six-thousand words,” she said. “A child living in poverty would come with a vocabulary of maybe 600 words. So how do you help the children make up? When you’re talking about an achievement gap, that’s one of the places it starts.”
The study is scheduled to be completed in June 2008. Its findings will lead to recommendations and an action plan that will be presented to the 15 schools and implemented in the 2008-2009 academic year.
Thomas McCarver, executive director of FOCUS and former superintendent of schools for the archdiocese, said FOCUS began operations in June after a three-year discussion on the strengths and challenges facing 15 mostly inner-city Catholic schools.
In addition to the current study, FOCUS is also helping schools by raising funds from foundations and other sources to help students with tuition costs.The Catholic Spirit