Ellicott City's 'Little Korea' Mount Hebron staff, pupils, parents have worked to close cultural gap.

March 18, 1997

CHANGE HAS COME SMOOTHLY at Mount Hebron High School. An influx of children from half a world away could have resulted in turmoil at the Ellicott City school. But teachers, administrators, parents and students have done a commendable job of merging the heavy flow of Korean and Korean-American children into a new environment over the years.

Children of Korean descent now comprise 12 percent of the school's 1,250-pupil population, or 150 students. That's a sharp increase over the early 1980s when they numbered fewer than 10 -- children, that is, not percent. Many children of Korean heritage arrived at Mount Hebron with a mastery of English. But others came knowing only a few English words and phrases. The school has no Korean faculty, and should hire some. Nonetheless, in the meantime, the children seem to be adjusting well.

Part of the success, no doubt, came because teachers and administrators were sensitive to the cultural differences some of these students had to overcome. The staff deserves credit for reaching out to students. Wisely, they matched Korean students who were unfamiliar with the language and American ways with those who were.

Sindy Parrott, the school's gifted and talented resource teacher, seems to be on the mark when she says: "I think everyone here is aware of the Korean students and working hard to help them, however we can."

Mount Hebron has assigned an assistant principal to serve as a liaison for Korean parents. He uses a translator for monthly meetings and has enlisted the services of a bilingual volunteer to help parents communicate with their children's instructors. Students also merit praise. Korean children proficient in English lend a hand to those who are less fluent -- part of the reason these new Americans performed well on Maryland Functional Tests.

Mount Hebron is not the only school adjusting to a flow of students from other cultures.

Recent immigrants are filling seats in many other Howard schools, one of the more diverse jurisdictions in Maryland. But the experience in Ellicott City shows a mountain of cultural difference does not have to be an impediment when school and home speak the common language of academic achievement.

Pub Date: 3/18/97

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