Prince George’s receives grant to help young English language learners


Accompanied by Principal Torrie Walker, Prince George's Schools chief executive Kevin M. Maxwell visited Fairmont Heights High School in Capitol Heights on July 10, 2013. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post )

Prince George’s County will open two high schools in 2015 that are specifically designed to help recent immigrant students and second-generation students who are struggling academically to adapt, school system officials say.

Schools chief executive Kevin M. Maxwell and representatives from the Internationals Network for Public Schools and CASA of Maryland announced Tuesday that they have been awarded a $3 million grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York to open the schools for English language learners.

“We’re really thrilled to add this to our menu of opportunities and menu of options for better results,” Maxwell said during the news conference. “This will be very new for us . . . but it is critically important to the work we have to accomplish.”

The schools, which will be the first of their kind in the county, will join 18 others across the country and two similar programs in the Washington region that are part of the Internationals Network for Public Schools and Carnegie’s Opportunity by Design initiative. T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria opened an academy in 2012, and Cardozo High School in the District is scheduled to open one in August.

“The goal of the Opportunity by Design initiative is to address the long-standing challenge of achieving both excellence and equity in public education,” Leah Hamilton, the program director of Carnegie Corporation of New York, said in a statement.

In Prince George’s, almost 30 percent of the students are from other countries, and nearly half of those students have limited English proficiency. About 63 percent of the students in the county who receive English language learners support services graduate from high school in four years, nine percentage points lower than the county’s overall graduation rate.

Claire E. Sylvan, the executive director of the Internationals Network for Public Schools, said one school in Prince George’s County will specifically be for students from Langley Park, a community of 17,000 residents, most of whom emigrated from Central America. The other school will be for recent immigrants and refugees from around the world, she said.

The Prince George’s County Public Schools CASA-Internationals Community Schools will instill a “college-going culture” among its students, according to the original agreement between the three groups. Students that are accepted into the program will be encouraged to attend a summer bridge program before entering ninth grade.

English language learners who have attended international schools in New York have fared better than English language learners at other city schools, according to officials. In 2011, 64 percent of the students at international schools in New York graduated in four years, compared with 45 percent of English language learners who attended other city schools. Meanwhile, the dropout rate among students at international schools was 9 percent, less than half of the citywide average.

Each school in Prince George’s will open with 100 ninth-graders and will add 100 students each year until the schools reach their maximum capacity of 400 students. The school in Langley Park will be in a separate building, but the other program will be operated as a school within a school, similar to the ones in Virginia and the District. The location of the second school has not yet been determined.

The grant comes on the heels of a recent report about Langley Park, which found that most children who live in the community are at risk of not completing high school, with just 45 percent of the community’s students graduating from high school in four years.

More than 90 percent of the students in Langley Park receive free or reduced-price meals in school, compared with about 65 percent in Prince George’s and 44 percent across Maryland.

“The report outlined the challenges, and these schools are part of the solution,” said Tehani Collazo, senior director for schools and community engagement at CASA.

Collazo said many of the students who will attend the Langley Park school will probably speak English and another language fluently. She said Langley Park does not have a high school of its own, and the facility will allow educators to engage with the students and families who live in the high-poverty immigrant community.

“We are hoping that the average student at our high school will look toward their future with possibilities,” Collazo said.

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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