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Chinese Immigrants From Fujian Province Challenge New York Public Schools

From World Journal
Reported by Huang Shu-bing
June 20, 2002

As immigrants from Fujian Province increasingly dominant the incoming flux of recent Chinese immigrants to New York City, school-aged children and teenagers from these newly arrived families consequently make up more of the student body in public schools serving the city’s most densely populated Chinese areas.

This fastest-growing group of students, with different backgrounds from other students and even their fellow Chinese students, poses a major challenge to the public school system as existing resources are not enough to help them with language and learning related problems.

In response to this growing problem, the Board of Education is making an effort to tackle this issue and hopes to meet the group’s needs.

Those who are familiar with the problem say that the core issue is not with students’ age, but lies with the differences between students from the countryside and those from the cities, which exists in all school levels from elementary to high school.

Lily Woo, principal of P. S. 130 in Chinatown, said some students from small villages have more problems with English. She said many of them did not receive any schooling in China and only speak Fuchownese, a dialect in northern Fujian, but do not speak Mandarin or Cantonese. With a lack of educators who speak Fuchownese, most teachers can not even communicate with those students. As for junior high schoolers, who had some schooling in China, most speak Mandarin but many have problems fully expressing themselves even in Chinese because they were poorly educated.

Pan Shao-yu, a school counselor at Colears Junior High School (JHS #56) in Chinatown, said the number of Fuchownese students in her school has significantly increased in recent years, and 90 percent of the Chinese students at the school are Fuchownese. She said some teenage students were placed in 7th or 8th grades although they only had two or three years of schooling. She added that, even with the assistance of teachers’ aids, those students are unable to catch up with other students and have problems expressing themselves in their native tongue.

Wan Shan-shan, director of recruitment at Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day High School, said she has seen many immigrant students drop out of school because they were unable to adjust to the English-speaking classroom setting. She added that some parents do not pay attention to their children’s education while some students are busy working part-time after school to help their parents pay back the debt from their journey to America. To them, attending high school is only to learn some English in order to get a job.

Meanwhile, school-aged Fuchownese immigrants’ discipline problems compound the academic ones.

Pan said many Fuchownese parents would give birth to their children in the U. S. and send them back to China to live with their grandparents until they reach school age or when the parents’ financial situation allows their return. She added that many children were spoiled by their grandparents and have no respect for their teachers and parents.

Rei Yin, a math teacher who has taught at Newcomer High School in Long Island City for seven years, said she has noticed that many newly arrived Fuchownesee students have behavior problems and fight with non-Chinese students as well as with other Chinese students. She added that they are not like the immigrants in the past, who came to America to pursue their dreams and tried their best to adapt to their new lives here.

Rei also noted that the students who were separated from their parents for a long time seem more spoiled and it is not difficult to find students with expensive electronic dictionaries or walkmans at school. She added that she is not sure what adversities those students experienced in their upbringing but they need counseling in studying as well as psychological development.

Meanwhile, a forum called "The Changing Face of Chinese Students in New York Schools", hosted by the Asian Languages Bilingual Education Technical Assistance Center (ALBETAC), took place two weeks ago. Many school officials and teachers attended the meeting and exchanged ideas on how to tackle the issues and meet the needs of the Fuchownese students in the school system.

Ying Chien-sheng, a Chinese resources specialist at ALBETAC, said New York public schools are aware of the issue raised by the Fuchownese students. The center will gather more information through such meetings to help the public schools provide more assistance in academics as well as psychological development, such as hiring more Fuchownese-speaking teachers, providing additional counseling, and more programs after school.

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