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Budget Cuts Hurt Already Struggling English Language Learners
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Budget Cuts Hurt Already Struggling English Language Learners

Fewer tutors and specialized counselors and no summer school – those were among the budget cuts made by the Anchorage School District that hit hardest for the 5,600 students classified as English language learners. In a three-part series, Alaska Public Radio reporter Daysha Evans detailed how educators and families worried that the students, many of who were already struggling, would fall even further behind.

A Hmong immigrant who received help from a specialized counselor graduated and even won a scholarship. But the counselor was laid off shortly afterward. The graduation rate for ELL seniors has been stuck between 40 to 50 percent for years. And, unless something changes soon, the districts goal to have a 90 percent graduation rate for all students by 2020 seems unlikely. As one principal said, “We’re swimming upstream.”

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Daysha’s Story Behind the Stories

My series of three public radio stories on how education funding cuts are impacting immigrants, refugees and other students learning English as a second language in the Anchorage School District grew out of my interest in exploring how lack of services for English language learners is an injustice for individual students and the entire community.

My previous stories have focused on delivering emotionally moving narratives about social policy issues. I have a graduate degree in journalism with a focus on immigration reporting from University of Southern California. I have also taught English to adult immigrant and refugee students. I have been working in Anchorage as a reporter for a public radio station for a year-and-a-half where I have reported many process-oriented stories about budget cuts because of reductions and/or freezes in federal and state funding for public schools.

In this series, my goal was to put a human face on a story that I had previously reported mostly through emotional sound bites from angry parents at school board meetings and numbers.

The IJJ training helped me to step away from the day-to-day deadline reporting of my job and to get a more global perspective on how the cuts would impact kids, which groups of kids would be most directly impacted and how they would be affected.

The biggest thing that I was able to bring to my IJJ stories, because of the training, was a familiarity with the myriad of issues that students from immigrant families face in the public school system, and outside it. I was able to immediately engage school administrators, teachers and parents in conversations that led to collection of powerful tape containing emotionally moving and interesting information.

I found the presentations from representatives of the Annie E. Casey Foundation very helpful, and they gave me insight into the complex lives of immigrant children. Some students, as we learned, receive little or no academic support at home due to parents with less formal education. Children sometimes end up taking on adult responsibilities because their parents do not speak English, which can create difficulty in managing and disciplining them when the hit their teens. Jose Arreola’s presentation on ‘Dreamers’ brought to life the real stress and fear that undocumented children face under our current immigration system.

Visiting Santa Fe South School was good practice at starting conversations with school administrators, teachers and students. Learning about the complicated legal hoops that even legal immigrants face during University of Arizona law Professor Nina Rabin’s presentation on the impact of enforcement policies on families was also informative to my reporting and helped me to more sensitivity report stories.

The stories aired on KSKA Public Radio in Anchorage and on our statewide network, APRN. They also appear in print form with photos and the audio on our website. I also promoted them through my professional facebook page and twitter account as well as on my personal, professional website.

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