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Spring 2004
Diversity, Economics and Education
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As the nation wrestles with increasing immigration and its impact on schools, California once again can show the rest of the country how to do it right

By Eric Stone
Photography by Mark Berndt

In the Classroom

A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO, just a few miles to the southeast of Los Angeles International Airport, in the city of Lawndale, Leuzinger High School was making plans to cope with an influx of 200 new students. What it received was about 400 more students than it expected.

That overflow caused enormous problems. To accommodate the additional students, the school in the Centinela Valley Union High School District would need 13 new classrooms and teachers, and an additional $2.25 million that wasn't in the budget. To further complicate matters, at least a third of the new students were what's known as "English learners," or EL, meaning they weren't proficient in English for their grade level. EL students are more expensive to teach than students with fluency in English; they require faculty who are trained to teach English as a second language, special textbooks and other course materials, and translators to help the school communicate with their families.

"It's like a big, growing ball held together with just a thin string," says Frank Divinagracia '96, M.Ed. '97, a math teacher at Leuzinger. "You keep adding new people and it puts more pressure on that string. We're all working longer and harder hours. It wears teachers thin."

If population and demographic trends continue as anticipated, that ball is going to grow bigger and that string is going to cut tighter. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs projects that the population of the United States, fueled by the combination of births and immigration, will over the next half-century grow at a rate faster than that of China and nearly as fast as India's. And California leads the nation with a population that is projected to grow at a faster clip than the rest of the country, doubling within the next 50 years, according to the California Department of Social Services.

Most of that gain will come from immigration. This year, as well as in the years to come, more than a million people will legally move to the United States, government statistics indicate — and nobody has any real idea of how many undocumented immigrants also will enter the country. If the trends of the past 20 years stay the same, the largest percentage will settle in California. And into the foreseeable future, almost all of the baby-making in the United States that accounts for birthrate figures above the zero-population-growth level will take place within those immigrant communities, according to U.N. population studies and state projections.

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