A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

School Reform and Student Diversity - September 1995

H. Case Study Summaries

5. The Graham and Parks Alternative Public School

Graham and Parks School, a magnet school serving students from throughout the city of Cambridge, was a special place that developed superb programs for teaching science to students learning English. Graham and Parks had been led for nineteen years by the same principal who acted as a tremendous force for the school's educational vision. The district desegregation plan also shaped the school's program: parents of English-speaking students chose the school through a lottery system, while parents of Creole-speaking students chose the school because the district housed its Creole bilingual program there. The bilingual program served Haitian immigrant students from kindergarten through eighth grade. Through an active partnership with a non-profit educational research organization, TERC (Technical Education Research Corporation), teachers at the school provided a stimulating science program to Creole-speaking students.

Most of the Haitian students at the school immigrated to the United States--with or without their immediate families--as a result of the political upheaval in their home country. The majority were very poor. When these children entered Graham and Parks School, some were malnourished; most were unschooled. As a rule, they had no literacy in Creole or English. They had experienced hunger and violence and many were separated from their closest relatives. Working with children who had been traumatized this way was challenging because they were often distracted by their fears and bad memories and seemed to have a sense of hopelessness about the future. On the other hand, and in sharp contrast to the suffering in these children's lives, was their apparent joie de vivre. In classrooms, on the school yard, and in the hallways, students exhibited an exuberant and joyful attitude toward life.

Innovative Curriculum and Instructional Strategies

The teachers in the fifth- through eighth-grade bilingual program at Graham and Parks used an innovative approach to teach science to LEP students. The science program had been collaboratively developed by TERC (a non-profit educational research firm located in Cambridge) and Graham and Parks teachers, with grants from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Language Affairs and Office for Educational Research and Improvement. Graham and Parks and several other schools in the Boston area served as living laboratories for the development of TERC's sense-making approach to learning science.

Graham and Parks at a Glance

Location--Cambridge, MA
Grade Levels--K-8
Number of Students--365
% LEP Students--25%
LEP Student Language Diversity--100% Haitian Creole
LEP Student Program--Haitian Creole Transitional Bilingual
% Eligible for Free or Reduced-Price Lunch--50%

TERC had been working with Graham and Parks for six years in the Haitian Creole bilingual program. TERC studied what and how LEP students learn in an inquiry-based science classroom. In project classes, science was viewed as a way of knowing and thinking. Students were encouraged to determine topics for study and to decide the questions to explore within a given topic. Thus, TERC science lessons centered around questions based on students' observation, which students then sought to answer using the scientific method.

Program for LEP Students

The Haitian Creole bilingual program was organized into multi-grade classes taught by bilingual teachers fluent in Creole and English. The program goals for language development included the acquisition of literacy in both Creole and English; it was taking most Creole students five or six years to become fully literate in English. The classes were grouped in the following ways: pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, first and second grades, third and fourth grades, and fifth through eighth grades.

Teachers in each pre-K/kindergarten through third/fourth bilingual class teamed up with teachers in a monolingual English class to allow flexible mixing and grouping of students. The fifth- through eighth-grade bilingual class did not team with an English-only class. However, when students were ready to make their transition, they were able to join an all-English class for part of the school day. Several transitioning eighth-grade LEP students, for example, went together into mainstream English classes. Newly mainstreamed students received academic support after school in a homework center staffed by Creole speakers.

The fifth- through eighth-grade bilingual program was taught by two teachers in one classroom, one of whom was Haitian-American; he delivered all instruction in Creole. Because English fluency varied among the students in this class, the teachers presented important concepts in both English and Creole and students were allowed to choose either language to ask or answer a question. Their strong desire to learn English, however, prompted them to use English as soon as they were able. Switching between Creole and English seemed natural and did not appear to interfere with students' learning either core content or English.

The combination of small class sizes (23 students with two teachers), the presence of two language role models in each classroom, and developmental, multi-year student grouping created an environment that fostered language development by allowing students and teachers in the bilingual program to feel that they were part of a close-knit learning community.

School Structure

In the same spirit of community, the school used grants to hire external staff to provide special services for students and their families. For example, the Student Support Team--made up of the principal, assistant principal, teachers, a parent liaison, nurse, school psychologist, and interns--met every Monday and took a case-study approach to students who were referred by staff. Counseling was also available at Cambridge Hospital and through a Haitian community counseling program. Graham and Parks was also staffed with a bilingual parent coordinator, a Haitian resource room teacher, and Haitian mediation specialist. All of these factors facilitated students' transition to English and to life in the United States.

Summary

The Graham and Parks bilingual program offered a unique learning opportunity for Creole speakers to engage in scientific discovery. The program's foundation was an excellent bilingual program; it was sustained by school and district support and active collaboration with an outside partner, TERC.
-###-
[4. Inter-American School] [Table of Contents] [6. Hanshaw Middle School]