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Hispanics express concerns to Education Department's assistant commissioner

April 15, 2003
By: Amaia Celorrio
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Two Hispanic students were denied enrollment at technical schools in St. Louis County this semester due to a lack of a proper ID.

Ana Pizarro, a social worker for the Catholic Community Services Hispanic Center in St. Louis, said she tried to get thee two Latino children into these schools, but they were not accepted.

"The schools first said they needed these kids' Social Security numbers, but after, they weren't sure and they said they would look into it and let me know," Pizarro said.

She met with the staff of the schools five months ago, but she hasn't heard anything from them yet.

This issue was raised by Pizarro at an April 8 meeting between the Hispanic community and the state's Education Department. The department's assistant commissioner, Charles Brown, promised that he would try to solve the students' enrollment problem.

Brown said that his department's main issue was to get data from the Hispanic community to close the achievement gap of minority students.

"Some smart youngsters are being bad treated because they cannot communicate in English," he said. "Some teachers make them feel bad, lowering their self-esteem so that sometimes they drop school."

Teaching in a different way in schools would help, according to Brown.

"Instead of Hispanic children taking ESL (English as a second language) classes, we should bring Spanish speaking teachers in the classroom so that they can help regular teachers," he said.

But not everybody agrees with these measures.

"ESL works very well," Sen. Anita Yeckel, R-St Louis County said. "With the budget crisis, this new measure would be impossible, and on the other hand, kids learn so fast that this action is not necessary."

Brown also said that his department did not want to put so much emphasis in learning English that the students were going to forget their own language.

"It's a question of being bilingual, it's not about getting rid of the students' native language," he said.

Parents and teachers play a very important role in children's life.

"We need to get students the heroes they need," Brown said. "Kids have to look at their parents and teachers as heroes."

According to Brown, Hispanic parents need to be involved in their children's education and teachers have to work together with the Latino community, learning about the culture and being comprehensive.

Brown said he was empathic with Latinos' concerns.

"I am going to promise you involvement," he said. "First, we need to get to know one another. Today is just the beginning, but I know this is going to work."

This was the second time that the "Hispanic Day at the Capitol" was arranged, in order to meet with the governor and with state department directors so that they could learn about the special needs of the Hispanic community.