Student Researches Effect of English Language Education on ESL Children

October 1, 2009
by Lindsay Hodges Anderson

For Antoniya Owens MPP 2010, immigration issues hit close to home. Originally from Bulgaria, Owens came to the United States in 2000 for educational opportunities and observed firsthand “the love-hate relationship America appears to have with its immigrants.”

Owens’ interest in immigration issues led to an internship this past summer working at the Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants (ORI) as a Rappaport Public Policy Fellow. At ORI she conducted research on the performance of limited English-proficient students across the state and examined how they fare in sheltered English immersion learning environments.

“Over the past decade, the enrollment of students with limited English proficiency, or LEP, in Massachusetts has grown substantially,” said Owens. “In 2009, 57,000 students lacked English proficiency—over one quarter more than in 1999.”

Owens research examined the controversy of whether or not the English immersion approach is beneficial for ESL students. Although Owens admits there is likely no “one size fits all” approach to teaching LEP children, she said she does hope that her research can help inform public agencies and the public debate about issues of immigration and education.

“It is my hope that this research will help expand and contribute to current knowledge about a sizeable group of students in our state and a policy issue that affects them directly.”

Owens said that her experience so far in the Harvard Kennedy School prepared her for this project – both in-classroom and outside the classroom.

“My elective courses—such as Kathy Edin’s Poverty and Social Policy and Bill Agpar’s Policymaking in Urban Settings—have helped me build a good knowledge base about current policy issues and develop my confidence as an independent researcher. Also, the Kennedy School’s diverse student body has exposed me to a variety of viewpoints that have led me to see many issues in more complex and nuanced ways.”

David Luberoff, executive director of the Rappaport Institute, said the opportunity for fellows to work in a real world setting is valuable experience.

"For Antoniya, it was an extraordinary opportunity to interact with relatively senior policy makers, to understand their issues and concerns, and, to learn how hard it can be to get the information you need to effectively analyze an issue,” he said. “This is exactly the kind of work that fellows do over the summer. They get to apply their analytical skills in real world settings on real world problems and have the chance to help influence public policy.”

The Rappaport Institute is now accepting applications for the 2010 Rappaport Public Policy Fellowships from any graduate student in greater Boston who will be returning to school in fall 2010. A university-wide entity housed at the Kennedy School, the Institute strives to improve the governance of the region by strengthening connections between scholars, students, officials, and civic leaders. It was founded and funded by the Jerome Lyle Rappaport Charitable Foundation, which promotes emerging leaders in greater Boston.

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Antoniya Owens

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"The Kennedy School’s diverse student body has exposed me to a variety of viewpoints that have led me to see many issues in more complex and nuanced ways." - Antoniya Owens MPP 2010