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Prince George’s gets grant to open schools for young English-language learners

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 in the United States, school system officials said Tuesday.

Schools chief executive Kevin M. Maxwell and representatives from the Internationals Network for Public Schools and CASA of Maryland announced that they have been awarded a $3 million grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York to open the schools for
English-language learners through the foundation’s Opportunity by Design initiative.

“This opportunity to improve student outcomes is fantastic,” Maxwell said at the news conference. “We all know that it’s not easy to come to a different place, speaking a different language.”

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. 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 support services for English-language learners graduate from high school in four years, nine percentage points lower than the county’s overall graduation rate.

Claire E. Sylvan, 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 goal of the schools will be to instill a “college-going culture” among their students, according to the original agreement among the Prince George’s school system, the Internationals Network and CASA of Maryland. Students who 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 public 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 after 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 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 overall and 44 percent across Maryland.

“The report outlined the challenges, and these schools are part of the solution,” said Tehani Collazo, senior director of 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 covers Maryland state politics in Annapolis.

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