Culture shock hits children hard Kids face lessons, a new language, rapid assimilation FAR FROM HOME? HISPANICS IN ANNE ARUNDEL

September 12, 1993|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

While the Hispanics who have come to Anne Arundel all face stress as they try to adapt to a new society and culture, it is perhaps hardest for the children.

Unlike their parents, who work and socialize with other Hispanics, children are forced to assimilate more quickly, confronting the new culture directly at school.

They must learn a new language. Some had never attended school regularly before.

"It's very difficult for them to mainstream into the school system," said Dr. Alcides Pinto, the head of psychological services at Crownsville State Hospital. "Number one, they can't communicate easily. They feel different. This is quite prevalent."

Cristina Lopez-Chertudi, a psychological intern at Crownsville, said she often sees Hispanic children suffering from emotional difficulties because of stress.

"They've got emotional problems plus behavioral problems," she said. "They're having problems in school, most of all because they don't speak the language."

Many Salvadoran children were affected by the civil war their parents fled "and they haven't had an opportunity to get an education," Dr. Pinto said. "Who knows how often the schools were open? If they could go? So they come with this handicap."

All of which makes a difficult job for teachers even tougher.

"We have kids coming in who are illiterate in their own language," said Judy Dunn, a teacher and former coordinator of the school system's English for Speakers of Other Languages program.

Teachers use many visual aids to communicate with their students.

"First of all, we teach them to speak [English]," Ms. Dunn said. Then comes the alphabet and basic reading.

Students in the ESOL program are not segregated from the rest of the school. Typically, they will have two ESOL periods a day; the rest of the time, they are in classes with other English-speaking students.

New students begin math classes in English immediately. They attend science and social studies classes in English after one semester.

"They're immersed in English all day long," Ms. Dunn said. "It hTC comes fairly quickly."

"Most kids are motivated," said Charles Bowers, the principal of Parole Elementary School, which has 12 ESOL students who live in the nearby Allen Apartments.

"They want to learn English as quickly as possible. I find that, basically, in a couple of months, they tend to pick it up."

Within two to three years, students take all their classes in English.

Ideally, students would stay in the program for five years or more, making the transition a little less rushed. But because the school system has only 12 ESOL teachers for 321 students at 68 schools, it is just not possible, said Patricia Orndorf, who coordinates the program.

"It's just really, really difficult to maintain them for five years," she said.

Some students who don't find the ESOL classes challenging enough ask to be taken out.

Jose Castaneda, a ninth-grader at Annapolis High School, was placed in ESOL classes when he moved here from Houston last year, but asked to be placed in mainstream classes after one month.

"I said to the teacher, 'It was too easy for me,' so they changed me," he said. "When I first came, they didn't give me math and science, and I need math and science."

Younger children seem to have an easier time with the transition.

Oscar Alfaro, 12, came to the United States with his family five years ago.

An older brother and sister speak English, but with some difficulty, and are clearly more comfortable in Spanish. Oscar, however, is fluent in English, and admits to having some difficulty in Spanish -- although that is the language spoken at home.

"I'd rather speak English, because Spanish is kind of hard," he said. "There are some words I don't understand. And I can't read or write."

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