When Marcella* walked into Anita Brooks AutoCAD class, she presented a challenge. An immigrant from Latin America, Marcella knew limited English. Brooks was faced with trying to help the newcomer understand the language and the technology while simultaneously meeting the needs of 27 other students.
In the six years Brooks taught AutoCAD as an elective for juniors and seniors at Nevadas Carson High School, only two Hispanic girls had taken the class. This was due in part to language difficulties and traditional cultural mores, which proscribe a womans role in society. Newly arrived immigrant families of Hispanic origin may discourage education for their daughters beyond what is needed to marry and raise children. Hispanic girls taking science, math or technology classes can face parental disapproval as well as ridicule from boys of the same cultural background.
"Going out and being independent is not what these girls are encouraged to do," observed Carson High Dean Chris Grischott. "Getting them to complete school is difficult enough because they are often needed at home to do child care."
But Marcella was not only determined, she was bright, gifted in math and science and had done well in the freshman computer literacy course required of all high school graduates in Nevada. Still, she needed a lot of help in AutoCAD, mainly because of language limitations. "Normally, I push my students until they want to succeed," Brooks said, "but this one needed an inordinate amount of help. Without an aide, it just wasnt possible to give her all the help she was asking for without short changing the other students."
A Challenging Proposal
At the end of the school year, Brooks reflected on her frustration at having tried to balance the needs of one student with those of the rest of the class. Although Marcella had been successful, Brooks wanted to find a way to provide more time for each student. The plan she came up with encouraged these girls to explore the science and technology classes that werent required and gain the self-confidence they needed to progress in other academic and social areas.
Through the National Science Foundation, Brooks secured a $50,000 experimental grant designed to encourage girls to develop careers in science, math, engineering and technology. The grant included funds for a bilingual aide, a GIS class to be held concurrently in a shared lab with a 7 a.m. AutoCAD class and transportation to the class. The transportation funds would enable the girls to travel to and from a business or government office that would allow them to assist in GIS or AutoCAD operations. "The participating agencies would mentor the girls on the technology, as well as on the importance of punctuality, appropriate dress in business and relating to others in the work force," Brooks said. "We would pay the girls $6 an hour to participate."
The grant also provided funds for English Language Learning and Improvement Service (ELLIS) software, which was a major factor in helping the girls improve their English.
Since a bilingual aide was not found in time for the first GIS class in the fall of 1999, Brooks went to the ESL and computer literacy teachers and recruited five girls, a mix of juniors and seniors, all with good English reading skills, and taught the class alone. "We started with Getting to Know ArcView, and the students helped by doing peer tutoring and mentoring each other," Brooks said.
Although the girls were successful, Brooks needed an aide if the class was to be any larger.
The New Team
Before the end of the semester, the school located Liz Gutierrez, a 22-year-old bilingual aide who was computer literate and who agreed to learn GIS along with the students. After training with Brooks for a few weeks, Gutierrez first