One in five children in the United States is an immigrant or a child of an immigrant. Many of these children speak languages other than English at home, and schools across the country have to accommodate them. Zlatica Hoke takes us to a high school in Dallas, Texas, with a student population from more than thirty different countries.
English as a Second Language is the most extensive program at North Dallas High School.
"If you come here speaking no English or very limited English, you will spend half of your day for the first year in intensive English immersion classes, says school principal Lynn DeHart. The principal says a majority of the 1,775 students at North Dallas High School are foreign-born or have at least one foreign born parent. Three quarters of the student population are Hispanics. Others are African-Americans as well as students born in many different countries of Asia, Africa and Europe.
Twelfth Grader Rita Trevino was born in the United States, but her parents are from Monterey, Mexico. "We have 32 different nationalities under one building," she says. "I've met people from Yugoslavia, from Peru, from Brazil - plenty of places. You see so many colors and places represented, so many languages."
Senior English teacher Joseph Rice teaches what might be considered the most difficult subject at school. "They [students] do exceedingly well in science. They do exceedingly well in terms of certain kinds of tests where you have the passage before you and you can read it and you have, perhaps, multiple possibilities for answers - multiple choice questions. Then they do very well on that because they are extremely intelligent students," he says. "But when it comes to writing an essay and showing facility with the language, that's the single most difficult part of the experience for the students."
Luckily, language is not too much of a problem at school, certainly not for the band, or for the sports teams.
Designated as the first international school in Texas, North Dallas High School is located in a low-income section of the city. Dean of Studies Christopher Liles says most of the students' parents never graduated from high-school and very few ever went to college. "Our teachers have to start from scratch," he says. "Our teachers have to work very hard to make up for a lifetime of lacked experience in the world and in the language."
Hard work usually pays off. Most of the students double or triple their test scores by the time they graduate and most go on to college. Like many of her classmates, Sabina Celebic, an immigrant from Bosnia, would like to attend the prestigious Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "I am planning to attend SMU [Southern Methodist University], if possible, and that's why I am trying to be on the top-ten list of North Dallas high school students and get scholarships and attend SMU."
North Dallas High makes a special effort to help its students continue education beyond high school. Principal Lynn DeHart says two full-time employees are assigned to help students with college applications and financial aid forms. "One of our goals for our freshmen class, when they come in, is that before you graduate, you will have filled out a college application form, you will have filled out a financial aid form. [We tell the students] You will have applied for scholarship and you will have taken a college entrance exam."
North Dallas High School is considered one of the best public schools in the Dallas metropolitan area. Its outstanding programs include advanced math, drama, community involvement, construction-trades and mechanical-repair programs and, of course, foreign languages.
Senior Rita Trevino says the school's active student organization attracted local media attention when it organized a downtown peace rally after the September 11 attacks. "What it was, the student council got together and we got all the 32 nations, represented in the school, together and we held a peace rally where everybody could just come together and hold their hands and kind of forget about what's been going on and News Channel showed up and we just, kind of, we had a moment of silence and we played a song," she says.
Rita Trevino says what she will miss the most when she graduates from North Dallas High is the diversity of the student population. "It's a great experience, I've learned to speak to so many people and learned so many backgrounds," she says.
Rita Trevino is one of more than 300 students graduating this summer from North Dallas High School, the first international school in Texas.