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Posts Tagged ‘New York’

School may be out for the summer, but there’s no break for ideas and debate about the best—and worst—ways for funders to help fix America’s education system. Certainly engaging with policymakers is critical. In a later post, I’ll discuss the issue of foundations’ increasing interest in and effort to influence education policy.

But one specific education idea that has gotten less attention than it deserves is the need to help those whose native language isn’t English.

It’s not just children of immigrants who are “English Language Learners,” but also those who live in linguistically homogenous communities. And it’s not just students in those states, including California, Texas and New York, with a history of immigration and multi-language environments. In fact, ELL populations are growing everywhere, and the fastest increase is occurring in states such as South Carolina, Indiana and Delaware, where school systems are less familiar and less equipped to help non-native English speakers. That’s according to 2009 data from the Migration Policy Institute as cited in a recent web seminar sponsored by Grantmakers for Education (GFE) and Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR). The two organizations have teamed up for a two-day briefing to be held next week in New York, exploring how funders can address ELL needs at various stages of youth development, from pre-school to elementary and secondary education to out-of-school time.

The recent web seminar—from which presentation slides and an audio recording are available—specifically focused on a “two-generation” approach to literacy: working with parents as well as students. Parents are “their children’s first and life-long teachers,” and engaging them is the key to success. For example, Joanna Brown of Chicago’s Logan Square Neighborhood Association talked about how her association helped to develop lasting relationships between parents and teachers, through after-school workshops and evening meetings. Before such efforts, teachers were skeptical of how much parents could help them in their work. And many parents were suspicious that the teachers had ulterior motives, such as reporting on their immigration status.

Helping non-native English speakers become fluent both enhances their opportunities and enables them to contribute fully to society more broadly. Improved quality of life and enhanced social cohesion are among philanthropy’s most ambitious and important goals.

—Jane Wales

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Last week, Time Magazine feted its 100 Most Influential people “who affect our world” at a gala that would be hard to match— with musical performances by Taylor Swift and Prince, a comic interlude by actor Neil Patrick Harris, a brief talk by Bill Clinton and toasts by Sarah Palin, scholar Elizabeth Warren and actor Ben Stiller. But what was striking about the evening were the less glitzy among the honorees: social entrepreneur Valentin Abe, who also gave a toast to Haitians struggling to restore their country; microfinance pioneer Michael Sherraden of the Global Assets Project; Avarind Eye Clinic’s Dr Naperumalsamy, and other remarkable leaders effecting change around the world.

Perhaps the powerful story is that of Chen Shu-chu, a market woman from Taiwan, who saves her meager salary so as to support orphans and to build a library in her school. Over the years, she has given the over $30,000, and now plans to establish a fund to provide education and health care for the poor.

Her first trip outside of this vegetable seller’s home village was this foray into New York’s worldly elite. Surrounded by those who had spent the equivalent of her annual earnings on their glittering attire, Chen wore a business suit selected by Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry (for which she insisted on paying). Such indulgences have no place in the life of Chen Shu-chu, who lives on three dollars a day, so that she can give the remainder to others.

How many of us with much larger earnings could be just a bit more frugal so as to put our funds to a larger purpose? I dare not count the ways I have expended my salary on unnecessary items with the full knowledge that others lack the basic necessities of life. It is one thing to know. It is another to act.

While my dinner invitation was the result of a small article I wrote, Ms Chen’s was the result of lives she had changed. That is true in her village in Taiwan. It was also true that night in New York City. For much as we all enjoyed the well-known speakers and the polished performances, Chen Shu-chu, my modest table companion, will remain the keynoter in my mind.

—Jane Wales

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