“Tienes que Poner Atención” : the benefits and drawbacks of Mexican immigrant students' previous academic experiences in an urban central Texas school
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In Central Texas, one high school (hereafter referred to as Literacy High) has attempted to help bridge the literacy gap in immigrant populations so as to more easily facilitate their success in standard classroom settings. In this high school, recent immigrants can focus extensively on English language studies so that, upon completion of the program, they can return to their neighborhood high schools with the linguistic and cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1973, 1974, 1977) they need to succeed in a heterogeneous group setting. The following study focuses on second-year students from Mexico within this school. Basing itself upon Yosso's (2006a, 2006b, 2007) theory of “community cultural wealth”, this ethnographic study looks for evidence of cultural attributes held by Mexican tenth grade students that contribute positively to their English literacy development and performance in Literacy High's coursework. The study has found that, primarily, Mexican students at Literacy High are assisted in their coursework by their previously developed aspirational capital (i.e. their ability to maintain their hopes and dreams for a better future even when faced with real and perceived barriers) and navigational capital (i.e. their ability to maneuver through social institutions, in this case the educational system). These characteristics enable them to pass their classes both at Literacy High and the high schools they transfer to upon program completion. However, this high achievement in terms of grades does not necessarily translate into complete English literacy, especially oral literacy. Potential reasons for these results will be discussed, based upon observations of sampled students in Literacy High classes, interviews with these students, and interviews with all Literacy High teachers. This work will also discuss the relative merit of both formal school settings and nonprofit settings in teaching written and oral literacy. Positive exemplary case studies of nonprofit ESL programs will be compared and contrasted with the results from this case study to determine what skills are most effectively taught in either setting, and how particular practices from both nonprofit and formal school settings might be better incorporated in each to improve achievement. The work will end with recommendations for how English literacy might more effectively be taught in formal school settings like Literacy High.