After last week’s brawl at Hall High — in which seven students were charged and one taken to jail — I feel like it’s only appropriate to post a few amateur pictures from a much happier event at the school this morning, the Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration.
It’s an annual event which features homemade food, student-crafted decorations, Latin dancing and mariachi music. I was fortunate enough to briefly attend this morning, and spotted new Little Rock School Board members Joy Springer and Jim Ross enjoying themselves as well. It was a great atmosphere — lively, relaxed, enthusiastic, friendly, diverse — and the pupusas were excellent.
Hall is the Little Rock School District’s designated secondary school for students who are in the process of learning English. Its Newcomer Center provides ESL (English as a Second Language) courses that attempt to academically and socially acclimate students with limited English skills. About 22 percent of the student body is now categorized as ESL, most of whom are Latino.
Although it’s no excuse, the large number of English language-learners at Hall partly explains why the school has the lowest test scores of any in the LRSD. The challenges it faces are huge.
Some local advocates for the Latino community such as LULAC have been concerned about rumors that the LRSD might shut down the Newcomer Center, but Superintendent Dexter Suggs has assured them that there are no such plans to do so. But as the LRSD mulls a major facilities overhaul, Suggs has stated, it will need to think about moving ESL services to other high schools beyond Hall in order to meet the growing population of Latino students.
At Hall today, I spoke to an ESL teacher who told me the school is facing a new challenge this year in the form of kids from Guatemala, Honduras and other Central American nations. They’re part of the much-discussed wave of migrants who were so frequently described as “overwhelming” the U.S.-Mexico border earlier this year. Unsurprisingly, some of those tens of thousands of beleaguered kids — many of whom were fleeing violence in their home countries — have landed with family members in Little Rock.
Not only do many of these students lack basic English skills, said the ESL teacher, there are some for whom Spanish is equally foreign. In Guatemala, there are villages where people grow up speaking one of several Mayan languages, not Spanish. And whereas most kids from Mexico have undergone at least some compulsory education, some teenagers from rural Central America arrive in the U.S. unable to read or write in any language. Alone in a strange land, often separated from their parents, and living with aunts and uncles, it’s invaluable for them to have a program in their public school that attempts to meet their needs. Bravo to Hall, and its teachers, for being there for them.
In the past, I’ve worked in a high school that was similar to Hall in some ways, and I remember how a big, ugly fight like what happened last week is a traumatic event in the day-to-day culture of a campus. It leaves everyone feeling shaken and unsafe, kids and adults alike. I’m convinced of this: As much as some students might momentarily revel in the chaos of a fight, it only takes a few one-on-one conversations with kids to realize that almost all students intensely feel the psychological damage that such violence inflicts, no matter how much they may posture to the contrary.
Today, I heard teachers and administrators whisper to one another about the brawl last week, hoping the day wouldn’t be marred by another fight and watching for any sign of trouble as they sampled the tres leches cake. None was forthcoming, though. There were just a bunch of kids, enjoying a little free time and each other’s company before the next period began.
More pictures after the jump.
Funding for education reporting provided by the Arkansas Public Policy Panel.