Bridging the Language Barrier at Lafayette High School

July 24, 2013 Updated Jul 24, 2013 at 11:25 PM EDT

By John Borsa

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July 24, 2013 Updated Jul 24, 2013 at 11:25 PM EDT

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) - The Buffalo Board of Education's plan to save two failing schools is going to be finalized next week. But for any plan to work, board members will have to bridge the language barrier.

Especially at Lafayette High School, where 70 percent of students speak English as a second language or not at all.

Elisandra Mercado and Yaydalice Balines moved to Buffalo from Puerto Rico five years ago. They did not know a word of English, but now they speak the language fluently.

"It's better. It's better. Obviously. We've been here four or five years so it's better," Mercado said.

They both graduated from Lafayette this past June. But during their early days at the school, it was a challenge learning science, math and history while at the same time trying to master English.

"The teachers are very helpful with us," Mercado said. "And they take their time to know that we know words -- you don't need English in math because there's numbers. It's not hard but if you don't know anything about English it would be hard."

For the students who know little or no English, the language barrier becomes a problem. Especially when the same students are expected to perform on state standardized tests.

"There are 45 plus languages spoken throughout this school," said recent Lafayette graduate Corey Becker.

"The fact that the state is neglecting that and using that as a reason to send BOCES program in here is just absolutely ridiculous," he added.

The New York State Education Department has ordered Buffalo to partner with Erie One BOCES at both Lafayette and East High School.

But some parents believe their children would be better served by translators than a vocational education.

"The big part of the solution would be getting more translators into the school to better serve the children," said Lisa Griffith, who is a parent representative at Lafayette and mother of an upcoming freshman.

The school board will make a draft plan and vote on it during a special meeting next Wed., July 31. A final plan must be submitted to the state by Aug. 12.

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