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How One District School Is Tackling English Language Learning

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Students who don't speak English are at higher risk of dropping out of school. In the District, a new academy within Cardozo Education Campus is trying to change those outcomes.

Kalkidan Mangstu is 18. She came to the U.S. a little over a year ago from Ethiopia, and spoke no English.

"I’m confused. Pronunciation is very difficult. I’m very confused," Mangstu says.

She sat silently during the school day because she didn't understand what was going on and didn't know how to ask for help.

This year, Kalkidan is one of more than 150 teenagers just like her who are enrolled in a specialized program at Cardozo. Teachers here are certified in both their content area and in teaching English as a Second Language. The students work in small groups and their lessons include how to go through the lunch line and why they need to turn in their homework on time.

Kalkidan says things now are completely different: "Teacher is helping, very helping student. I'm excited this year!"

"The vast majority of my students are from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala" says Megan Sands, associate principal. "But then I also have a couple from students from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Samoa and Vietnam. We have a Cameroonian as well."

She says they have different educational backgrounds.

"We have a number of students who have nearly finished their high school career. Then I have students who have a fifth grade education in their home country and are 16 years old," Sands says.

Rosanna De Mammos is with D.C.’s traditional public schools. There are almost 5,000 students who don't speak English fluently in DCPS. And she says Cardozo in particular has seen a dramatic increase.

"So in the last 10 years, Cardozo has always had an English language learner population. In the past their years the numbers have doubled," she says.

Kalkidan says her grades have improved considerably since attending the academy: "Last year my grades are C. All C. This year A."

When asked why she wants to learn English she says, “This is USA, English will give me a more, better life.”

These reports are part of American Graduate — Let's Make It Happen! — a public media initiative to address the drop out crisis, supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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