Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ethnicity in the school classroom

By Claire Pescheret

Thus far, I have volunteered with multiple grade levels at Booker T. Washington Elementary in order to make up the hours I missed during the first few weeks of school. I have volunteered in a pre-k classroom, a first grade classroom, and a fifth grade classroom. It has been very interesting to observe the differences between these ages.

Primarily, the ethnicity combination of the students has varied in each classroom. The pre-k room was a composed of entirely Spanish speaking ethnicities. They were also not very proficient at speaking English. Their class was in 90% Spanish and 10% English. The first grade room was also entirely composed of students of Spanish speaking ethnicities. These students were a bit more proficient in English. I played a game with the most English proficient of the class to teach them how to spell English words. Only three of them were able to speak and spell the basic words. In the fifth grade classroom was presence of the first African American students. I assisted during reading time; therefore, fluency was easy to gauge among this group. There was the select group that was very proficient in English, a group that was very good at Spanish, but not as good at English, and another group that was simply struggling to read in English.

I struggle with what to attribute my observations of ethnicities to. I do not understand the absence of African American students until the upper grades. Could they have started school at a later age than first grade? This I see to be plausible as a result of the difficulties some of them had reading in the fifth grade. Is there a difference in income and quality of life of the Spanish speaking people of the community versus the African Americans allowing the Spanish speaking ethnicities the resources to start their children in school at the correct age? I wish I knew more about the demographics of Champaign and the surrounding areas. I hope, through my work at the schools and my exposure to new culture, that my questions may be answered.

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