City gives $2million for ESL programs
Polish Daily News
By Janusz M. Szlechta, Nowy Dziennik /   Translated from Polish by Ania Milewska.

New York Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott announced that the city would allocate $1.8 million to fund English as a Second Language (ESL) programs for immigrant families. This decision is the city’s response to the protest that took place last Wednesday in front of the City Hall. During the rally, immigrants demanded from the city more pro-immigrant policies and more assistance in providing appropriate education.

“I am convinced that thanks to our own and the private funds – close to $3 million more – immigrants in the process of obtaining permanent residency status or U.S. citizenship will be able to brush up their English reading and writing skills, they will be able to acquire new knowledge and faith in their own capabilities,” Walcott stated.

Over 600 immigrants and leaders of immigrant organizations demanded last Wednesday that New York City officials provide appropriate assistance in solving key problems concerning immigrants. The protesters demanded more funding for ESL education, help in putting a stop to often unjustified arrests of immigrants by the NYPD and assistance in improving the benefits available within the public school system to children of immigrant families.

According to the latest report of the NYC Department of City Planning, the 2000 census shows that nearly that one in every four New Yorkers – about half a million people total – claims to have problems with the English language. According to the report, ESL classrooms are too full, which prevents many immigrants from making significant progress in speaking and writing English.

Only about 5 percent of immigrants wanting to learn English are able to find appropriate programs and only 1 percent claim that they are able to obtain practical knowledge thanks to the programs they are enrolled in. The report also shows that immigrants from China, Mexico and the Dominican Republic seem to have the most difficulties mastering English. The birth-rate among those three ethnic groups is the highest among immigrant groups in the city. As a result, according to the report, new communication problems arise within families.

A complete list of demands had been delivered to the offices of the NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and members of the City Council. The list of postulates reflects great dissatisfaction on the part of immigrant communities with the lack of interest of city authorities have shown concerning the pressing issues immigrant groups face in New York City.

“Most of all we need means to educate our children. The government and city authorities have been promising a lot, but not much has come out of it,” said Vladimir Epstheyn, president of the Russian American Voters Educational League.

“We want more ESL classes and more teachers,” chanted a representative of a Colombian immigrants group. Polina Lemberg, a Russian woman working for the Church Avenue Merchants Block Association (CAMBA) Legal Services, located in Flatbush, told Nowy Dziennik that she was participating in the protest to fight for the right of immigrants to a normal life. Lemberg said that her organization helps immigrants with a wide range of issues free of charge. “A lot of Polish people take advantage of our services,” she added.

Family reading and writing programs are becoming increasingly popular among New York immigrants. The goal of those programs is to help adults gain the confidence they need in communicating through attending classes with their children.

“Last year New York was the first city to sponsor such a [ESL] program,” said Jeanne Mullgrav, commissioner of the City Department of Youth and Community Development. Thanks to the $1 million from the taxes and a grant of $300,000 from the Toyota Family Literacy Program, the city was able open 10 reading and writing programs in each borough.

The latest report of the NYC Department of City Planning titled:The Newest New Yorkers 2000 shows that between 1990 and 2000 the number of New Yorkers who were born abroad increased by 38 percent, reaching the record number of 2.9 million. The document shows a major gap between the crucial contribution to the development of the city that immigrants are making and the interest (or rather lack of it) of the City authorities in the needs of immigrants.

Translation © 2005, IPA, all rights reserved. Included by permisson of Nowy Dziennik / Polish Daily News.