Hispanics and Health Issues

Frederick Douglass Elementary School is located in a primarily Black, impoverished neighborhood with a large population of Hispanics. There are drugs in the neighborhood and our student mobility rate, which is nearly 50%, is caused primarily by many parents seeking schools in better neighborhoods and by other parents taking advantage of Florida’s voucher system. My fourth graders in the English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) class are from different countries and from low socioeconomic backgrounds. They need a caring environment to help them adjust. Some of them speak more English than others, but of 16 students, only two spoke English well enough to understand what’s going on at the beginning of the year. In this lesson on making bar graphs to represent favorite foods, my students show how well they can work together to communicate their mathematical understanding. Simultaneously, I try to increase their awareness of diabetes, a disease that disproportionately attacks Latinos, Blacks, and Native Americans.

Georgine Roldan, Miami, Florida

Georgine Roldan was interviewed for this profile when she taught fourth grade math at Frederick Douglass Elementary School, Miami, Florida. The lesson is modified to align to the Common Core second- and third-grade standards for measurement. I had already viewed the videotape of her teaching the lesson, so the goal for my visit was not to see her lesson in progress but to get a richer sense of the teacher-to-student interactions demonstrated on the tape. I thought that Mardi Gras time in New Orleans would be perfect since I’d have time off. To my disappointment, she said it would not be an ideal time because students would be taking Florida’s high-stakes test. To heighten the anxiety level, her school was already labeled a “double-F” because in two out of the past four years, its ratings were Fs and were Ds for the other two. However, she still invited me to come on the last day since testing sessions would be over by lunchtime.

As I drove to the school, I thought about its demographics and students. “Our children have a lot of issues,” Georgine said. Indeed, Frederick Douglass is situated in a black community and is largely composed of African American students and Latinos, with 99% of the students receiving free or reduced lunches and living in low-income neighborhoods. The students walk from neighboring housing projects or are bussed from Little Havana, an impoverished Latino section of the city Georgine’s English speakers of other languages (ESOL) students are recent immigrants from Central and South America, with only two students commanding enough English to read a complete sentence. They are self-contained with Georgine as both their ESOL and regular teacher.

As I looked outside the school, I noticed students standing in line in a well-kept basketball court. Teachers chatted easily and congenially with students in English or Caribbean-accented English or Spanish, as they shared encouraging words about the test. Entering the school, the president of the PTA was supervising the sale of small items for a fund-raiser while simultaneously greeting other parents who had come to serve as volunteers for testing duties. Georgine introduced me to her principal, who said, “Georgine is an excellent teacher. Her students performed very well on the previous state test.” While Georgine’s second-floor classroom was bare of decorations because of the test, the first- floor hallway near the entrance was decorated with both posters and students’ work celebrating Black History month. Other posters written in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole declared that reading was a fun and good habit. This was not a crumbling school packed with teachers of low morale and students running wild. Indeed, the principal, teachers, parents, and school ambiance projected a positive and supportive environment for this diverse student population—and the students appeared to know and appreciate that.

My thoughts then turned to a host of questions: So what’s not working here? How does Georgine address the needs of reform mandates and, more critically, those of her students in her day-to-day teaching and student interactions? I knew that answers to these questions and others would have to wait until the afternoon after the exam. It was now only early morning, so I quieted my thoughts by rereading Georgine’s unit in which she launches an investigation leading to data analysis and awareness of diabetes by appealing to students’ shared appreciation for Latino/a food.

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