Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Teaching Science to Students from Rural Mexico: Learning More about ELL Students' Communities of Origin

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Teaching Science to Students from Rural Mexico: Learning More about ELL Students' Communities of Origin

Article excerpt

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George Roberts has been teaching ninth-grade Earth science in Gardston, Iowa, for 10 years. This year, as chair of Gardston High School's science department, he agreed to have all the English Language Learner (ELL) students assigned to his classes. George's goal was to learn more about the needs of these students and arrive at a set of techniques he could share with the rest of his science team. Unlike many other science educators, George has a distinct advantage: The majority of ELLs at Gardston High School immigrate from a particular community.

Understanding the rural community of origin of his Mexican ELL students can help George learn more about his students and teach them better. This article reports on a visit some of the authors made to the shared hometown of George's students in hopes of uncovering aspects of the students' former lives that stand to impact their experience in his classroom.

Supporting ELL science teachers

There is lack of infrastructure in Gardston, as well as in other Iowa communities, to support teachers' abilities to effectively address the rapid ethnic diversification of their classrooms. In response, the state of Iowa is engaging in innovative capacity-building efforts to develop the needed knowledge and skills among its educational professionals. One of these initiatives involves providing teacher educators and administrators the opportunity to travel to Mexico so they can be immersed in the language and culture of the new immigrants' hometowns and thus be more aware of the impact of these differences on student learning.

As part of an exploratory information-gathering process to plan for one of these trips, I (Katherine Richardson Bruna) had the opportunity to travel to Pueblo to see where so many of Gardston's new immigrants come from. I am involved in the design and delivery of professional development to ELL science teachers in Iowa. Accompanying me on the trip were my coauthors--a photojournalist (Dennis Chamberlin) and a graduate student in sustainable agriculture (Hannah Lewis). Upon return, the final coauthor, a teacher in Mexico (Edna Monica Lopez Ceballos), helped us make sense of our insights. Here we share those insights because we believe the information will benefit not only George, but all science educators of students from rural Mexico and quite possibly other "developing" countries.

Mexican immigration: A national pattern

Gardston is just one of many traditionally "non-ELL" cities to which now nearly entire communities in rural Mexico are coming to lay down new roots. In doing so, they are bypassing the usual gateway states such as California, New York, and Texas, for example (Lyman 2006). What Gardston is experiencing speaks to the national pattern of U.S. immigration. Over the last three decades, immigration from Mexico has come to account for almost 40% of the total national immigration increase, up from below 800,000 in 1970 to a swelling 8 million in 2000 (Camarota 2001).

Among other factors, changing economic policy in Mexico is responsible for this dramatic increase, most of which comes from the rural sector, as members of the small landholder class, a reported 64% of them, migrate to the United States in order to earn enough money here to survive as farmers there (Pastor and Wise 1997). Given these figures, attention to the education of children from rural Mexico in U.S. schools is rapidly becoming a national priority.

Most Gardston ELLs come from a town we will call Pueblo in the central state of Michoacan, one of the largest sender regions of Mexican immigrants to the United States. Over the last decade and a half, residents of Pueblo have, through family and community migration networks (Winters, de Janvry, and Sadoulet 2001), gone north to Gardston to work at Ryler, one of the world's largest meatpacking plants, where Pueblo immigrants are now reported, according to members of the Gardston Mexican community, to comprise 50% of the plant workforce. …

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