There is a prominent communication barrier during the enrollment process and in the school system. Even though newly arrived West Indian students have been taught in English, some also speak Patois. The Jamaican education system teaches the students in English. However, one respondent of our survey concerning her own experience in a Bloomfield School expressed that there can be a disconnect between teachers and students due to accents:
“[My] peers were held back, [I] think it was because they had trouble interacting with teachers because of accents and academic interaction.”
“There is a gap between students and teachers due to accents.”
Hartford Public Schools define Patois as a second language to English. In an interview with an administrator of a Hartford Public School, she explained how there can be a disconnect between the parents/guardians and the English language system offered within the schools:
“In Hartford Public Schools, Patois is now recognized as another language, the only thing about that is parents, the West Indian families don’t know that… they can get the English language support that they need when they are here, but parents have to state that on the form.”
The form that she is referring to is the Home Language Survey that parents/guardians are given when they are enrolling their student. The parents/guardians indicate the primary language spoken at home on the form.
According to our community partner and other people we spoke with, parents/guardians are not likely to state that English is their child’s second language because Patois is a separate dialect of English along with the fact that the Jamaican school system’s primary language is English. However, if a parent/guardian does indicate that Patois is the first language and English is the second, the school system may consider that student eligible for English Language Learning services. Additionally, parents/guardians must opt their student in or out of English Language Learning services.
English Language Learning Services
To understand the process for English Language Learning services, we talked with several administrators and did extensive web research. There is a flow chart below that features the process for determining the placement of the students into English Language Learning services. Despite our work, we have struggled to find the questions on the test along with what score the student needs to get to be considered a fluent English speaker. Regardless, if the parent/guardian doesn’t indicate speaking a language other than English, the student will not be identified for English Language Learning testing or services. There is a gap between parents/guardians and the school system in reporting students who speak Patois.
One respondent (who entered the US from Jamaica) had a very good experience when she received English Language Learning services in Hartford Public Schools according to her interview:
“With the help of ESL teachers, I was able to learn at my own pace.”
Even though many of the newly arrived West Indian students are English speakers, raised on the Queen’s English, many of the British-English speakers also speak Patois quite different from British or Standard English. However, some of the research we have done suggests that English Language Learning is not the most appropriate service for Patois-speakers because much of their vocabulary is English based (Williams-Pike 2014). Additionally, students who are taught British English spellings face some difficulty in relearning the Standard American English spellings.
Controversy Over Patois
Patois is officially a second language. According to one school official, there are “approximately 64 Patois speakers in the Hartford Public School System”. This indicates that 64 families that filled out the Home Language Survey put Patois as their primary language making them eligible for English Language Learning services. Despite this fact, neither school administrators nor parents/guardians see Patois as another language. One school official explained:
“I don’t consider it a second language. If Spanish speaking, they consider that a second language to have services, but if they speak Patois, it’s still English speaking, it’s just a broken language”
While another school administrator stated:
“What happens is Patois is not a, it’s not a, what’s the word I’m looking for, I don’t want to say a legal language, because it’s not like Spanish or something like that, but you wouldn’t get service for that cause you speak English, cause it’s just broken English, it doesn’t count as another language.”
This shows how there is still disagreement on whether Patois speakers are considered needing English Language Learning services.