Carlos is a 15-year-old male from Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. He arrived in the United States in August 2011. He had never lived anywhere other than Puerto Plata. He moved to The Bronx, New York, where he lives with his mother, father, brother and uncle. His father came to New York before the rest of the family in order to find work and get the immigration paperwork ready. Carlos felt good about coming to the United States and was really excited; he wasn’t sad to leave his country. He doesn’t plan on moving back to the Dominican Republic or visiting often. Carlos started high school in New York after being in the United States for only about one month, and was enrolled in the Bridges program. In New York, his father works construction and his mother helps care for the elderly. In the Dominican Republic, his father worked in a slaughterhouse and his mother was not employed. His father has an 8th grade level of education, and his mother completed school up to 1st grade. Carlos says that they both know how to read and write in Spanish, but neither of them knows English. Carlos’s brother is 21, knows some English, and works at McDonald’s. Carlos is not sure what his uncle does, but reported that he does not speak any English. In the Dominican Republic, Carlos would run errands for people in the neighborhood and they would tip him. He plans to start doing similar work in New York (getting prescriptions and running medical errands), and thinks that he will use both English and Spanish as part of this job.
From age 5 to 15 (when he came to the U.S.), Carlos didn’t report any gaps in education. He attended school in a rural area of the Dominican Republic and only went to school for four hours a day. His classes were held in Spanish and he did not learn any other languages. His favorite subjects were social studies and Spanish. Carlos reported that he liked school okay in the Dominican Republic and didn’t have any problems in school there. But he thinks that school in New York is better. He said that school in New York is a lot different from school in the Dominican Republic, mainly because his teachers in the Dominican Republic did not pay him much attention. He said that students did not receive attention during class, and even during lunch, kids would just play with their food and no one would say anything. This lack of attention was his least favorite thing about school in the Dominican Republic. His favorite thing was that classes were in Spanish.
Carlos said that he liked school in the United States better because his teachers pay him more attention and help him when he needs it. He reported that he liked the content of his classes, with his favorite subjects being English, social studies and science. Also, now he really likes math, which he did not like in the Dominican Republic. Carlos thinks that math is easier now—he can do addition and subtraction problems in his head without a calculator. He also likes school in New York because of his friends. He explained how when he started school he had no friends, but then, after only 2 weeks, he had tons of friends. He thinks that people are friendlier here than in the Dominican Republic. However, he says that there are too many gangs in New York, and he feels like boys get into trouble and fight a lot more here.
When Carlos entered his school in New York he was given an intake diagnostic test and had a writing sample collected (both in Spanish). Based on the results from these measures, it is clear that Carlos started school in New York with low-level academic skills in Spanish, his native language. Carlos read at about a third grade level. His comprehension suffered due to a lack of higher level thinking skills, such as the ability to make inferences based on texts. Carlos had beginning writing skills in Spanish. His writing was not fluent, with many misspelled words. He wrote in a combination of capital and lowercase letters that did not match writing conventions and did not use punctuation. He had some trouble writing his name on his papers at the beginning of school. Carlos also struggled in math, with his skills also at about a third grade level upon entry to school. Carlos was able to do simple addition, subtraction, and multiplication, but was not able to perform more difficult math problems and had trouble solving word problems. His poor academic performance in Spanish is likely due to the poor quality of his education in the rural school he attended in the Dominican Republic.
When Carlos started school in New York, he had no English proficiency. He was very shy and did not try to reproduce English or take any risks. He had a very low tolerance for ambiguity and confusion. His teachers reported that he was very quick to give up and shut down and became extremely discouraged when corrected. For example, if he got an answer wrong he would push his paper away and declare in Spanish, “then I won’t do anything.” By January, Carlos’s academic skills had greatly improved. Based on work samples provided by his teachers, after about four months in school Carlos is clearly writing his name, and is using capitalization and punctuation correctly in both his Spanish and English writing. He still has some spelling mistakes, especially in English, which is to be expected. At the beginning of school, he would often turn in blank worksheets, but four months later, Carlos is completing his work and caring about it. His teachers report that he went from not participating at all in class to showing real academic curiosity and raising his hand most of the time. He has developed his higher level thinking skills and asks many inference questions in class.
In math, Carlos does very well with simple procedures but not with higher-level concepts and word problems. This may be due in part to the fact that he lacks many mathematical concepts in Spanish. Carlos can do the mechanics of math, and enjoys doing his worksheets. Carlos’s English skills have improved as well. He now has confidence and takes risks with his English. He likes to show off to the teacher that he knows cognates. He has become a leader in class and raps with his classmates using English in very creative ways. One of his teachers described him as “a budding MC who freestyles with the 50 English words he knows. So inventive and original.”
Carlos reported that he reads and writes in his spare time. He reads in both Spanish and English about sports and the news and likes to read comics. He writes emails and uses computers mostly in English. Carlos reported that Spanish is important to him and that he tries to speak it as much as possible. He thinks it is important to read and write in Spanish. However, he said that he does not need to learn Spanish because he already knows it. He reported that his family does not strongly feel that he should have classes in Spanish while he is learning English. Carlos uses both languages throughout the day in school. He speaks with his Spanish-speaking peers in Spanish and English. He has a close friend who is not a Spanish speaker, and they communicate with one another in English.
Carlos was a very different student when he started school than he is now. When he first started school in New York, he struggled with understanding the school culture, which was particularly challenging at his school because it is very chaotic. Students have to go through metal detectors, deal with security guards, and navigate their way through loud, crowded hallways. All of this was new to Carlos, as his school in the Dominican Republic did not have any of these things. Carlos didn’t try to misbehave, but he often didn’t understand what to do and would make little mistakes that would get him in trouble. For example, he would often stand in the wrong line or have trouble finding his classroom and thus be late to class. Also, according to one teacher, he didn’t respond well to authority or discipline. He listened to his teachers about one or two out of every ten times. He easily shut down when he didn’t get the help he needed or when he felt like things were too hard.
Now Carlos listens nine out of ten times. He has “become a gentleman” according to one of his teachers. This same teacher said that if he had been rated on the number of smiles in a day, self-esteem, confidence, and beat boxing ability he would have gone from 0 to 10 from the beginning of the school year to now. He has thrived with the opportunities and encouragement he has been given. He has jobs in the classroom—collecting student folders and watering plants—that he takes pride in. He also takes a music class as an elective that he really enjoys. He takes risks in English that no one else does, and he is recognized for it. For example, in one Science class, upon looking at a picture of a camel in the desert (not having learned yet about animal adaptations) he said, “I know the camel can have many days no water. When he see water, he drinks a long time.” He is eager to show his knowledge, and is encouraged to do so. Because the course content is aimed as his level, he is now an active participant. His teachers believe that had he been in a mainstream classroom, he would have continued to shut down and not respond well in class. He would not have been given the same opportunities to become part of a community and to build on the foundational skills he needs to grasp academic content at the 9th grade level. His teachers are now confident that he will do well in the ninth grade next year.
Carlos plans on graduating from high school and college, with his main goal to become a policeman. He and his family believe that graduating from high school and going to college are important.