Last year, a Summit couple told Superintendent Dr. Nathan Parker that they wanted to help create a program that would help first- and second-generation Hispanic students succeed in school. Thursday night, the Board of Education announced the start of two-tiered program to do just that.
The plan to enhance opportunities for first- and second-generation immigrant students came at the BOE's workshop meeting at the Wilson School. Summit Public Schools will administer the new programs.
The first program is a parenting initiative geared to helping preschool children. This institute, to be held at , is designed to give immigrant parents and guardians the information and assistance they need to make sure their children are academically prepared to begin school.
The second program will award college scholarships to first- or second-generation Hispanic students.
The initial funding for the two-tiered program came from a $100,000 donation from the Gottesmans, through the Barbara and Harold Gottesman Family Foundation. Board President Jack Lyness called the donation "the most exciting thing that has happened in my two terms with the board."
In March 2010, Andrew Gottesman told Parker of his wish to help immigrant children in Summit schools. Coincidentally, Parker had recently formed a committee to study the academic needs of this particular population. He invited Gottesman to join the panel.
That committee, the Hispanic Population Study Group, reported its findings during a presentation at the board meeting. Felix Gil, principal of Summit's two primary centers, reported that the group found a significant achievement gap existed between Hispanic students and their peers.
Using language arts as an example, Gil reported that for fourth-graders, 21.9 percent of white students were only partially proficient in the subject. At the same time, 48.9 percent of Hispanic students were partially proficient. The disparity continued through to 12th grade: In senior year, 1.9 percent of white students achieved partial proficiency. For Hispanics, the figure was 9.5 percent.
The gap was attributed to a number of factors, including poverty, limited access to Spanish-language information and resources, and cultural differences.
The committee found that certain remedies could create positive change for Hispanic students: formulating a roadmap for immigrant children's academic success, expanding support for education beyond the high school years, and creating incentives to achieve.
The two-tiered approach is designed to reach immigrant populations by focusing on children as they enter the public school system and in the years before they are slated to graduate.
Dr. John Schnedeker, Summit schools' guidance director, said these programs will help Hispanic kids master early childhood education and make the scholarship winners role models for young children, who will see the reward of educational achievement. A better educated immigrant population means better educated members of the larger society, he asserted, making the effort "an investment well worth making."
The Gottesmans' donation will fund the Parents Institute and the scholarship program for the next two school years. Two students who achieve academic excellence will receive $5,000 scholarships in 2011-12 and two more will receive the awards in 2012-13. In the meantime, the school district will come up with ways to raise money to keep the efforts going beyond 2013.
The Gottesman Foundation's gift will also cover approximately 200 partial scholarships to The Connection's English as a Second Language course over the next two years. The 10-week course will be available to adults at the beginner and intermediate level.
"We spend so much time discussing budgets and construction and health costs, that it's nice to spend time on something that should bring real benefits to the kids, " Lyness said. "The generosity of the Gottesmans has really inspired our staff."