ELL Students: Bridging the Gap in our Public School System

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Plyer v. Doe (1982) that undocumented students, including younger adults, have the same right to a public education as a U.S. citizen. As a result of this case, public schools are unable to:

  1. Deny admission to a student during initial enrollment or at any other time on the basis of undocumented status. Treat a student differently to determine residency.
  2. Engage in any practices to “chill” the right of access to school.
  3. Require students or parents to disclose or document their immigration status.
  4. Make inquiries of students or parents that may expose their undocumented status.
  5. Require social security numbers from all students, as this may expose undocumented status.[1]

It is required by all public schools to provide language-assistance programs to “all limited English proficient children.”[2] Why are so many English Language Learners (ELL students) left behind, past and present? Some students have been put into special education programs because they are unable to speak English proficiently. Others have been pulled out of the classroom for individual work such as worksheets or computer work, rather than an inclusive classroom that differentiates instruction.

A major problem we faced and continue to deal with today in our public school system was the isolation of student immigrants.. Heidi Flores, a Bolivian immigrant and former T.C. Williams student describes herself as a “little dot in a big place.” [3] Students immigrating to America have the right to an education but over the last few decades, have not necessarily been receiving the best education they could be receiving. Washington Post staff writer, Pamela Constable wrote an article published April 2, 1995 mentioning the issues Alexandria Public Schools had with ELL students. She includes that “there are more than 20,000 public school students in the District and surrounding suburbs who either were born abroad or are studying English as a second language. About 75 percent are Latinos, and many face similar problems: limited English, cultural isolation, economic hardship and poor or interrupted schooling in their homelands.” [4]

Others in the article discussed how the public school systems separate ESL (English as a Second Language) students for part or all of the day and some offer bilingual instruction. The problem with these Bolivian immigrants like Flores is that they are isolated and may not have received the best education possible. Education programs have changed since the 1990s, and today, there are sites like the Virginia Department of Education that include instructional information for ELL students. Alexandria’s Public School Systems site includes different levels ELL students may be at and more information on that specific level.


Image from the Virginia Department of Education showing resourced for ELL students acpsImage from Alexandria’s Public Schools site showing the performance definition for ELs (English Learners)

In A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story, Tom Gjelten, writes of two Bolivian young women who have a dream of going to college in the Washington Metropolitan Area.[5] These two girls are an example of how immigrants migrate to the United States for a purpose. When migrating to the United States, these Bolivians and other non-English speaking migrants are labeled as ELL students and are not always given the best education they could be receiving. Some teachers are working on bridging the gap to improve these ELL programs and work on assisting students like Heidi Flores who attended school in a diverse area with many immigrants, feel less isolated. Flores and her fellow ELL classmates have this feeling of isolation causing a potential thought to drop out of school because other people discourage these students from wanting to be successful due to their immigration status. When teachers and administrators in public schools are able to bridge this gap of isolation, students will be more likely to be successful and potentially push for citizenship to have the opportunity to attend college in the United States or apply for a job to further their success.


Image Courtesy of Simon and Schuster

[1] “Migrant and Bilingual Education,” Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, http://www.k12.wa.us/Equity/pubdocs/ProhibitingDiscriminationInPublicSchools.pdf, published March 24, 2015 (accessed November 8, 2016).

[2] Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563 (1974).

[3] Pamela Constable, “A New Accent on Education,” The Washington Post, April 2, 1995.

[4] Ibid.


[5] Tom Gjelten, A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015).

Ethiopian Christmas in America

Ethiopian holidays are important to the country’s history, and how Ethiopian immigrants carry on their traditions abroad. Many Ethiopians celebrate Christmas or Genna, which is held on January 7th. On the day before, Ethiopians attend church all day, with women wearing a shamma, a traditional wrap.[1] The video below shows Ethiopians attending church the day before Christmas.

Two images of Ethiopians in Shammas


Image courtesy of The Lebanon Truth Seekers


Image courtesy of BuzzEthiopia

Ethiopians continue these traditions in the Washington Metropolitan area to bring Ethiopians in the area together and to celebrate an important holiday. Rhoda Worku, an Ethiopian asylum seeker who came to the United States in 1980, sat down with Krystyn Moon (the interviewer) for a city project, Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present and Future in Alexandria, Virginia. In her 2015 interview, Worku talks about how important the holiday is to her and her family. In her interview, she talks about how she celebrates January 7th, and how Ethiopians follow the Greek Orthodox calendar.[2] Afomia Wendemagegn, another Ethiopian immigrant interviewed by Moon describes Genna as her favorite holiday and compares Christmas in America to Christmas in Ethiopia. Wendemagegn stated that Ethiopians do not give gifts like American’s but celebrate the holiday with their loved ones.[3] Doro wat was described by both Worku and Wendemagegn as a dish made for the Ethiopian Christmas. Wendemagegn described doro wot as “a stew made with chicken with the hard-boiled eggs in it and it’s really spicy. I mean you can change like the use of spiciness, but we like it hot.” Although Wendemagegn said that doro wat can be made at any time, it is one dish many Ethiopians eat on Christmas. [4]

From the evidence based on the two interviews with Rhoda Worku and Afomia Wendemagegn, we can see how important Christmas is to Ethiopians. Not only have some of Ethiopian immigrants had to escape war, but they are now citizens in a country extremely different than what the one they are accustomed to. Holidays are a way for Ethiopians to gather and celebrate an important day within the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and maintain connections to their heritage. Ethiopians do not give presents like Americans do and instead focus on spending time with their loved ones and enjoying the company of the people surrounding them. Holidays and the foods associated with them are incredibly important in different cultures, and is the middle-ground for bringing new people together across cultures. The arrival of Ethiopians in the Washington metropolitan area has also led to opportunities where food and festivals are celebrated with non-Ethiopians too.

[1] Zion Bezu, interviewed by Krystyn Moon, July 23, 2015, interview transcript; Richard Pankhurst, “Ethiopian painting of King Takla Haymanot’s war with the Dervishes.” African Arts 39, no. 2 (2006): 64.

[2] Rhoda Worku, interviewed by Krystyn Moon, September 10, 2015, interview transcript.

[3] Afomia Wendemagegn, interviewed by Krystyn Moon, June 4, 2015, interview transcript.

[4] Ibid.

Fruit Growers Express

The Fruit Growers Express was a company formed in 1920 after the “federal government ordered Armour and Company to sell its fruit-shipping subsidiary following an antitrust decision.” [1] Because the city of Alexandria had the Potomac River and different railroad systems, it was a hotspot for transportation, leading to the success of the FGE company. Located originally at the Potomac Freight Yard, the company then moved to the Cameron Freight Yard, near Telegraph Road and Duke Street because more space was needed due to expansion. [2] According to Alexandria’s local government’s website, at the company’s peak in the 1920s, “FGE could produce as many as 1,000 refrigerated cars a year.” [3] 



 Potomac Freight Yard in 1916, Image from the Library of Congress

Examining the 1940 U.S. Census for Alexandria, many Italian immigrants worked for the FGE company, but also included were immigrants from Germany and Scotland.[4] Italian immigrants working for FGE can be found in Wards 3 and 6 of the 1940 U.S. Census.[5] Seven of the nine Italian immigrants working for FGE (78%) 23re car repairers, while there was 1 carpenter; another Italian immigrant listed his occupation as a fruit grower (11%).[6]


1940 U.S. Census, John Guiseppi was a car repairer for FGE

In Donna R. Gabaccia’s Italy’s Many Diasporas, she wrote of the Italian immigrants did not have much money or education, and were laborers when they immigrated to America, especially between 1870 and 1940.[7] A car repairer or carpenter were potentially lower-level jobs, but not necessarily in the railroad industry. They required skills, and were well paying.  John Guiseppe’s wages, for example, was $1200.[8] Frank Attilis, who was also a car repairer for FGE, had a salary received at $1300, not much more than Guiseppe.[9]


1940 City Directory

Immigrating to Alexandria allowed for many opportunities for skilled jobs due to the railroads. Many of the Italians who worked for the Fruit Growers Express, allowing them to provide for their families (both in the U.S. and abroad) and potentially future Italian immigrants.

[1] Alexandria Times, “Fruit Growers Express,” Alexandria Times (2009). https://www.alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/historic/info/attic/2009/Attic20090416FGE.pdf

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] 1940. U. S. Census (Population Schedule), Alexandria, Virginia, digital image, accessed October 10, 2016, http://www.ancestry.com/.

[5] 1940. U. S. Census (Population Schedule), Alexandria, Virginia, digital image, accessed October 10, 2016, http://www.ancestry.com/.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Donna Gabaccia, Italy’s Many Diasporas (Routledge: New York, 2000).

[8] 1940. U. S. Census (Population Schedule), Alexandria, Virginia, digital image, accessed October 10, 2016, http://www.ancestry.com/.

[9] 1940. U. S. Census (Population Schedule), Alexandria, Virginia, digital image, accessed October 10, 2016, http://www.ancestry.com/.

The Ratcliffe Family

I was immediately drawn to the Ratcliffe family after examining various English immigrants that our class examined in the 1860 and 1870 U.S. Censuses for the City of Alexandria. I was intrigued by the fact that Ann Ratcliffe’s occupation listed in the 1870 U.S. Census was “doctress” because not many women were in the medical field during the 19th century.[1] She had $600 of property while her son, William, was not worth anything although he worked as a moulder or brick maker.[1] 

Ann Ratcliffe was an English immigrant born in 1805. Ann was married to a RB (Robert) Ratcliffe, who, based on information from the 1850 U.S. Census, was a carpenter from England worth $500.[2] At the time the census was conducted, Ratcliffe’s occupation (if she had one) was not listed; she had three children total, all born in Washington, D.C. Richard was born in 1830, Margaret in 1835, and William in 1838.[3] Unfortunately, I was unable to find more information on Ratcliffe’s children other than William. [4]

William Ratcliffe later married Ann E. Nightingale on July 15, 1868.[5] Together, William and Ann had one child, a daughter named Lizzy Bell, born in November 1869 by 1870. [6]

William and Ann Ratcliffe continued to live in Alexandria in the same home on the corner of Wilkes and South Fairfax Streets. William died at the age of 54 on April 12, 1894, while his mother’s death is unknown. His funeral was held in his home the Sunday following his death.[7]


Home of the Ratcliffes or William and Ann “Radcliff.” Don DeBats, Voting Viva Voce: Unlocking the Social Logic of Past Politics, University of Virginia, accessed September 21, 2016, http://sociallogic.iath.virginia.edu/.


William Ratcliffe’s Death Noted in the Alexandria Gazette. “Virginia Gazette and Virginia Advertiser,” Alexandria Gazette, April 12, 1894. Accessed September 21, 2016, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress.

As we can examine, Ann Ratcliffe was not a typical woman of her time. She was the only female physician/surgeon of her time in the City of Alexandria, showing viewers today how important she was in her community. After her husband passed away in 1851, she had to work to continue life without her husband.  As stated above, the date of her death is unknown. According to Charlotte Erickson’s book, Invisible Immigrants: The Adaption of English and Scottish Immigrants in Nineteenth-century America, a wife was extremely important to male immigrants in the United States and the mid-19th century. [8] Without Ann, the Ratcliffe family would not have had a source of income because William did not have a solid source of income according to the 1870 census in the City of Alexandria.

[1] 1870 U.S. Census (Population Schedule). Alexandria, Virginia, William and Ann Ratcliffe, line 26 and 29, digital image, accessed September, 21 2016, http://www.ancestry.com/.

[2] 1850 U.S. Census (Population Schedule). Alexandria, Virginia, RB Ratcliffe, line 28,  digital image, accessed September, 21 2016, http://www.ancestry.com/.

[3] 1850 U.S. Census (Population Schedule). Alexandria, Virginia, Richard, Margaret, and William Ratcliffe, lines 30-32, digital image, accessed September, 21 2016, http://www.ancestry.com/.

[4] 1870 U.S. Census (Population Schedule). Alexandria, Virginia, William and Ann Ratcliffe, line 26 and 29, digital image, accessed September, 21 2016, http://www.ancestry.com/.

[5] Marriage Certificate, Alexandria, Virginia, William Ratcliffe and Ann Eliz’H (Elizabeth) Nightingill (Nightengale) Ancestry.com. September, 21 2016. http://www.ancestry.com/inst/discoveries/PfRecord?emailId=N-08e4bb45-f58c-41e4-a7d1-c310b4780848&collectionId=60214&recordId=19650&ahsht=2016-09-23T02:21:33&language=en-US&ahsh=a68fc4f13929fdb5db60a94cd50bef64

[6] 1870 U.S. Census (Population Schedule). Alexandria, Virginia, Lizzy Bell Ratcliffe, line 28, digital image, accessed September, 21 2016, http://www.ancestry.com/.

[7] “Virginia Gazette and Virginia Advertiser” Alexandria gazette, April 12, 1894. Accessed September 21, 2016, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress.


[8] Charlotte Erickson, Invisible Immigrants: The Adaption of English and Scottish Immigrants in Nineteenth-century America (Coral Gables, FL: University of Florida Press, 1972), 56.