Volume 17 • Issue 15 | SEPTEMBER 3 - 10, 2004


Chinatown school’s program translates into success

By Melanie Wallis

St. Joseph’s School, predominantly serving New York’s immigrant population of Chinese and Hispanic decent, has been awarded a $50,000 scholarship fund for their eighth grade students.

The fund, awarded by a variety of high schools, will be assisting 17 of 26 eighth grade graduates to attend the high school of their choice this September. One child has received $20,000 for a four-year scholarship at La Salle Academy and another has been accepted into the highly competitive Stuyvesant High School.

St. Joseph’s School’s principal, Sister Deborah Lopez, 57, herself a graduate of the school, is delighted with the award, which was based primarily on academic merit. “I’m very pleased, and actually very surprised that they had done so well, because I know the scholarship pools are diminishing due to the economy not being so good,” Lopez said.

Lopez feels the scholarship award, which is the highest it’s been in the four years she’s been principal there, is more than deserved considering for most of the students, English is their second language. “The children scored very well on the tests, even though they have limited English,” Lopez said.

Founded in 1926, the school is located in the eastern section of Chinatown, on Monroe St, and sits on the top three floors of the church, including a newly renovated rooftop playground. Lopez says that the school’s population of 180 is 65-70 percent Chinese with the majority being children of immigrants.

There are no prerequisites to get into the kindergarten-through-eighth grade school, not even knowing basic English. “We had two children this year that didn’t speak English at all, and many more than that the year before,” Lopez said.

It is the school’s ability to accommodate non-English-speaking children that sets it apart. As well as the New York State curriculum, the school has qualified staff to teach English as a Second Language.

“It’s our E.S.L. course that differentiates us from other schools,” said Lopez. She also said that they encourage the students — the students’ speak a variety of dialects — to become translators for others in the school, ultimately enhancing the pupils’ understanding and learning process. “Those who speak one-to-five Chinese languages translate for the new students and the parents,” Lopez said.

As well as the E.S.L. course, the school offers special cultural programs, by bringing in outside experts from a variety of organizations. For the coming year, the school has set up programs with the Metropolitan Opera, the Science Center, Attic Salt Theatre Company and Music Therapy Company. The programs involve a person from each organization doing a series of classes during school time, followed by an end-of-term field trip to the institution.

Registration for St. Joseph’s is strong this year with the increase in demand from its surrounding population. Lopez, who has lived in the area all her life, says the Asian population has significantly grown. “When I was young, there was no one living west of City Hall or east of Chatham Sq.,” she said, “and there was no one living in Battery Park City,” she continued. She noted that Asian people tend to stay in the Chinatown area because of the availability of Asian food, businesses and bilingual services. “We have second-generation Chinese students, with their parents having attended first,” the principal noted.

Lopez hopes to stay with St. Joseph’s for a while longer. “We get moved around, but usually stay at one place for about six years. I hope to be here for a very long time,” she said.

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