New Americans group calls for school reform - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

New Americans group calls for school reform

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Speaking up for your child's education is difficult if you don't speak the language well, or at all. But Monday night, a group of new Americans stood up, and received commitments for change from educators.

About 100 parents, teachers and students gathered in Burlington's St. Paul's Cathedral to deliver their message of change. Administrators say they're listening.

St. Paul's isn't typically open on Monday nights, but this week, a diverse range of recent immigrants used the venue to plead with school administrators for reform.

Harka Khadka came to Burlington in 2008, following 17 years in a refugee camp. "There was political turmoil in Bhutan in 1990 and we had to flee the country leaving everything behind," he said.

However, he and his family did hold onto their education. Khadka - who has served as a liaison for those who don't speak English - says staff aren't doing enough to evaluate the skills of recent immigrants when they walk through the doors of Burlington High School for the first time.

About 20 percent of Burlington students speak a language other than English at home, and some students have graduated without the skills necessary to even fill out a job application. Administrators and speakers say that's impermissible.

Members of Parents for Change say the district should develop foreign language introductions to the American school system and explain what path students need to take to reach college. They say all too often students are placed by age - and into a lower track - rather than the appropriate grade.

Burlington Schools Superintendent Jeanne Collins says she's committed to implementing some of the proposed changes. "In fact, through discussion with parents we've already started on some of them," she added.

Collins says they've already begun tweaking student placement for English Language Learners. B.H.S also added what Collins calls "double dose support" for those can handle class material (especially math) beyond their English skills.

Collins said she's excited by Monday's event and the change it could spur. "Out of tonight, we'll be building new relationships and new discussions that will ultimately affect kids at Burlington High School," she said. Khadka says changes need to occur as soon as possible.

Those in attendance at Monday's meeting say they'll keep up the conversation, and the pressure, to make sure every student gets the same opportunity.

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