Recent state grants will support English language learning and early career education programs in Massachusetts Gateway Cities.
More than $3 million will go to the state’s 26 Gateway Cities to be used in school districts to help close the achievement gap and prepare students for careers after high school. Receiving $195,000, Holyoke was one of 12 cities awarded continuation grants for English Language Learners Enrichment Academies. Democratic State Representative Aaron Vega of Holyoke says these programs are particularly important in Gateway Cities because they have a long and continuous history of being homes to immigrant families coming to the areas for work.
“The trick is that a lot of our students are coming here in third or fourth grade and they’re proficient in math and science, but they’re not proficient in English,” Vega said. “So a lot of times we have students falling behind in other subjects not because they don’t understand science or math, but because it’s all being taught in English.”
Pittsfield was awarded $125,000 to continue its five-week language program in the summer which served 81 students last year. Virginia Guglielmo-Brady is the ELL Coordinator for the city’s public schools.
“We really want to avoid that regression that would have happened if they wouldn’t have had any summer support,” Guglielmo-Brady said. “More than likely they’d regress and we’d be playing catch up in September.”
Guglielmo-Brady says pre- and post-session assessments determine if student regression occurred. She says 75 percent of the district’s ELL students are primarily Spanish speakers along with African and French dialects. She says the district sought and was awarded $25,000 more than its initial grant last year because it has seen an increase in newcomers and SIFE students, or students with interrupted formal education.
“Those are students who come here from another country who may or may not have had the education that is comparable to ours,” she said. “Or perhaps are a little bit older and are coming into the eighth or ninth grade that really are maybe a tenth or eleventh grade age. So they had that interrupted schooling, substandard schooling or schooling where we really need to close those gaps.”
“They’re a really great resource in terms of being able to provide professional development to our teachers and students,” Guglielmo-Brady said. “Work with our students to be able to create some forum of talking about what it is like to come to the country new.”
In addition, six cities have been awarded grants for Career Academies to provide training for people entering the workforce out of high school. Representative Vega says the academies bring in the business community to better train the future workforce.
“When we talk about the skills gap it’s a real issue, especially for places like Holyoke and a lot of these Gateway cities, when we are trying to bring in new businesses,” Vega said. “They are going to look at a variety of factors. One of them is going to be ‘Do you have a ready workforce?’ If these cities don’t have a ready workforce, companies aren’t going to come here.”
Governor Deval Patrick has proposed increasing the grant investment to $4 million for fiscal 2015.