Manhattanville College Helps Suburban Schools Bridge Hispanic Student Achievement Gap

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In Metro New York's upscale Westchester County, 26 percent of K-12 students are Hispanic. A comprehensive effort to bridge the achievement gap for these Hispanic students has been orchestrated by the Changing Suburbs Institute at Manhattanville College and is being evaluated by the college under a grant received recently from JP Morgan.

To help bridge the achievement gap among children in Westchester County, NY where 26 percent of the students are Hispanic (and in some towns 75 percent), the Manhattanville College School of Education’s Changing Suburbs Institute® (CSI) has been working since 2006 with the administrators, teachers, and parents in nine very diverse school districts -- Bedford, Elmsford, Greenburgh 7, Mamaroneck, New Rochelle, Ossining, Peekskill, Port Chester and White Plains.

As a result of these unique collaborations, which involve program development, professional development and parent involvement, a transformation of the very culture of the schools is slowly beginning to take shape. For example:

  •     Hispanic parents are attending CSI-sponsored conferences (up to 250 parents attended recently) to learn how to become more active in their children’s education and prepare them for college;
  •     125 school teachers from the nine districts this year attended the annual CSI Educational Forum at Manhattanville that featured national leaders on topics, such as how to promote listening and speaking in diverse language classrooms;
  •     Administrators from the nine-school CSI consortium meet bi-monthly on their own to share best practices, such as literacy and math instruction strategies, to improve the education of the county’s diverse populations; and
  •     Over 50 student teachers from Manhattanville’s well-known School of Education work in the nine Professional Development Schools, to help prepare them to become educators in the nation’s changing suburbs.
  •     New literacy and math programs for students now exist during school and after-school that involve Manhattanville’s students and faculty at the nine professional development schools.

“Eight years ago, we discovered the urgency of attending to changes in suburban Westchester school districts, in recognition of the increasing diverse populations. We came up with CSI to ensure that currently practicing and prospective teachers are prepared to teach an increasingly diverse student population,” said Shelley Wepner, Dean of the School of Education at Manhattanville and author of the 2012 book, Changing Suburbs, Changing Students: Helping School Leaders Face The Challenges. “What’s exciting is to watch this collaboration with our partner school districts bear fruit through a combination of program development, professional development, and parent education.”

Measuring The Achievement Gap in Westchester
CSI’s ultimate goal is to minimize the achievement gaps for diverse students in Westchester schools. Achievement is measured using a mix of test scores, grades, graduation rates and school attendance. While no county figures exist, national figures show that Hispanic children consistently score lower on achievement. The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics data from 2009, for example, show fourth and eighth grade Hispanic students on average score 20 points – two whole grade levels – lower on the National Assessment of Educational Progress scale.

CSI recently received a grant from JP Morgan to evaluate the nine professional development schools in Westchester and to collect data on how these programs are contributing to closing the achievement gap.

Parent Leadership Catches On
“CSI’s Hispanic Leadership Program conferences have inspired many Hispanic parents to become advocates for their children, to stand up to school boards for specific programs, to begin to help their children with homework, to enroll them in early literacy programs and to apply for college scholarships,” said Laura Bigaouette, Director of the Changing Suburbs Institute. “The conferences show parents the importance of being directly involved in their children’s education.”

One parent at a recent Parent Leadership Conference held each year at Manhattanville College’s campus in Purchase, NY, explained that applying for college is “like an enchilada,” children must have many “ingredients” as part of their portfolio – strong academic performance, sports and other activities -- a metaphor that has helped other parents understand how to prepare their children for college. Another parent said that attending the conference was a “life changing” experience, because he learned that college was attainable for his son through financial aid and academic preparation.

Veteran Teachers Learn New Techniques
Inspiring parents is only one strategy that helps bridge the achievement gap. At the annual CSI Educational Forum, teachers learn about effective programs that promote listening and speaking in diverse language classrooms, hear about hands-on literacy activities such as bookmaking with early childhood students, and find out how to use multi-media tools to better engage diverse classrooms. Up to 125 teachers from both Westchester and Fairfield counties have attended these forums.

Student Teachers Prepare for Future Challenges
The Manhattanville School of Education (SOE) has nine Professional Development Schools (PDS) where teacher candidates and student teachers from the SOE gain experience in diverse language schools and classrooms. The CSI PDS programs are run in these classrooms by SOE faculty and experienced teachers in these schools.

Administrators Adopt New Ideas
During bi-monthly, small consortium meetings, with very focused topics, administrators learn from each other. One district administrator, for example, adopted a program called SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol), and because of a presentation at one of these meetings, it sparked an interest in several other districts, which have now adopted the protocol. SIOP helps teachers plan and deliver lessons that allow English learners to acquire academic knowledge as they develop English language proficiency. Other consortia meetings have focused on math instruction strategies for diverse language learners, early childhood literacy techniques, common core state standards, and character education.

About Manhattanville College:
Manhattanville College ( is an independent, co-educational liberal arts institution dedicated to academic excellence and social and civic action. Manhattanville prepares students to be ethical and socially responsible leaders in a global community. Located just 30 minutes from New York City, Manhattanville serves 1,700 undergraduate students and 1,000 graduate students from more than 50 countries and 30 states. Founded in 1841, the College offers more than 50 undergraduate areas of study in the arts and sciences, and offers graduate programs in Education, Business, Creative Writing, and Liberal Studies, as well as Continuing and Executive Education programs.

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Axel Bang

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