Strive and succeed: immigrants in the Chelsea schools, 1890-1920
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An elementary school principal writes an historical analysis of a thirty-year period of growing immigration and changing education policy in Chelsea, Massachusetts, a city located near Boston. The history examines the years 1890-1920 and the transformation of an urban public school system, including its policies and practices regarding the education of immigrant, non-English-speaking children. Comparisons are made with immigration and the New York City public schools during the same years. A literature review of language policies and the schooling of immigrant children in New York one hundred years ago sheds light on past and present experiences of language-minority students. Attention is given to changing notions of assimilation and Americanization in U.S. society; to the teaching of English and the role of native-language maintenance in defining an ethnic-American identity; and to educational achievement and mobility rates among Russian Jewish and Southern Italian immigrants and their descendants a century ago, and among Hispanic immigrants today. Related questions include: What was the response ofthe New York City and Chelsea public schools to the task of educating immigrant children and how did this change over time? What educational options were available to the increasing immigrant populations? What attitudes and expectations did immigrants and educators have of one another in terms of public school education? How does the historical and sociological evidence confirm or deny the perception of "academic success" and "educational attainment" of immigrants in New York City and the Chelsea Public Schools at the turn of the 20th century? Earlier developments in education policy petiaining to immigration in Chelsea are compared with recent trends, including English literacy, bilingual education, teacher quality, curriculum, school facilities, class size, testing and standards, and graduation rates. The researcher used a mixed-method study of both quantitative and qualitative sources. As an extended reflection and interpretive synthesis, the paper draws from the vast literature on past and present immigration. Sources are varied, from historical accounts of immigrants, to census and school department reports, newspaper reports, statistical surveys, student essays and speeches, and several novels, memoirs, and biographies.
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