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
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
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.