Young Arzu Alp(not her real name), a ten-year-old military brat, is starting mid-semester at her third school in four years. Nervously standing before the American flag, she anticipates trouble understanding the teacher, hopes for just one new friend, and speaks English as a second language.
Arzu need not fear. Her family has been stationed where the school she will attend instructs over 100 hundred English as a Second Language students by three specialized teachers and a competent faculty. Unlike her first year in the Department of Defense District School system when she spoke only Turkish, this semester she will test for Level Four and be very close to breaking her language barrier. She has seen others do this and excel in all other areas as well. The talented and gifted program at her new school is made up of 50% ESL students. In fact, the principal boasts that ESL students often finish high school as valedictorians or salutatorians. (M. Fidler, personal communication, June 9, 2001).
Immersion of ESL students in mainstream classes has its advantages and disadvantages. Beginning with enrollment to testing through four levels of English comprehension to graduation, the potential obstacles are unique to ESL students. As we journey through Arzu’s experiences in the ESL program at her new DoDDS’ school, we will assess its productivity and describe its methods of success. One teacher at her new school feels that having ESL students learn side-by-side American, English-speaking only students creates an environment of cultural diversity. Multiple beliefs, traditions, and allegiances adds spice and enrichment to classroom interactions. (M. Fidler, personal communication, June 9, 2001). This is especially true at Arzu’s school where the different backgrounds pepper every classroom and there is no dominant one. Everyone is somewhat culture-bound.
Within each culture, there is a unique coherence, integrity, and logic (Snowman, Biehler, 2000). These two statements and believing that one culture is not better or worse than the rest is the ideas on which cultural diversity, or pluralism, is based. One English/History/Humanities teacher articulates this attitude by commenting that relationships must be based on tolerance and mutual respect (M.Fidler, personal communication, June 9, 2001).
In response to the question, “Do cultural differences cause problems in the classroom?” twelve out of twelve teachers and both the principal and vice principal agree that they do not.