By James Tabafunda
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
A new Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center (SBOC) will serve Seattle’s non-English speaking students. One of the changes that will be made includes a new name.
Located at Meany Middle School, it has been a vital learning place for immigrant and refugee children who have been in the United States for less than a year.
Veronica Gallardo, director of English Language Learners and international programs at Seattle Public Schools (SPS), encourages students and interested community members to contact SBOC with their suggestions for possible names. In a Jan. 10 interview, she said, “I certainly would recommend that they do it within the next 30 to 60 days.”
Debadutta Dash, co-chair of the Washington State India Trade Relations Action Committee, submitted a name last month.
He wrote in a letter, “I would strongly recommend to name it after Mahatma Gandhi (real name Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi) as he stood for education among the children, as well as for the diversity in the community. He became a true leader after spending 22 years of his adult life in Africa.
Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Dalai Lama have been great followers of Mahatma Gandhi.”
SBOC’s new name will be announced in June.
Founded in 1980, it originally taught the basics of the English language to a small group of Southeast Asian students in the SPS.
Gallardo says it will take the next three years before all the changes and additions to SBOC are implemented.
She also pointed out, “Our priority is to keep key things in place, so that we don’t mess with the integrity of this world school that we all have in mind.” A “design team” of individuals researched how similar schools in San Francisco, St. Paul, Boston, and New York City operate. She added, “We took the best of those models and applied what really felt like Seattle’s model should be and then, we added to it.”
SBOC serves 273 students in grades six through 12, ranging in ages from 11 to 21. Asians are its largest racial group, about 54 percent of the total student population. The largest number of students — 55 — speaks Vietnamese. Spanish is the second most-spoken language with Somali in third place.
Twenty-nine students speak Cantonese, nine students speak Mandarin, and nine students speak Nepali.
SBOC also has students who speak Burmese and Farsi.
“The beauty of this new world school [is] that we’re going to be [getting], beginning in 2011, core subject credits because we’ll be offering core subject courses,” said Gallardo. Core subject courses include literacy, math, social studies, and science.
“We’re definitely looking into supplementary offerings such as music [and] dance,” she added.
There are plans for SBOC to be attached to a high school. For SBOC students, the transition to other schools can be very difficult, says Gallardo.
“We want to be able to create a school where they can transition into it at the same setting and still get those core subject credits, still have a diversity of all the different languages being around, and then, the creative arts piece put specific to that population.”
SBOC plays a major role in meeting the non-language needs of its students as well. She said, “We need our community leaders to understand that we are one of the highest schools in the district with 95 percent of our students receiving free and reduced lunches.”
Other changes include reducing the time SBOC students are kept, from two years to just two to three semesters.
One key change will be SBOC’s new Family Welcome Center. “Not only will they have enrollment information, but they’ll have community outreach information, which is vital for our families because our families really need the networking and the community organizations to support them,” said Gallardo.
The second key change will be SBOC’s new Health Center for students. “They’ll be able to get the immunizations that they need, so that they won’t have a lag time between starting school and getting their shots,” she said. “Many of our students who come from war-torn countries will have trauma.”
“We’ve really remodeled this world school, so it’s a one-stop shopping center for our families,” Gallardo said.
“Our goal is to make it more than a newcomer center, to meet the needs beyond the newcomers, because we know that our newcomers do transition out. And so, as they transition out, we want to continue supporting their needs.” ♦
For more information about the Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center, go to www.seattleschools.org/schools/secboc.
James Tabafunda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.