Like many places in the United States, Iowa has recently experienced a major influx of non-English-speaking immigrants, many of whom are from war-torn countries. During the 1990s, the number of limited English proficient students (LEP) in Iowa public and private schools increased by 177%. There are now more than 10,000 Iowa LEP students (Grey, 2000). Schools encountered difficulty finding effective ways to educate them.
In this situation, LEP students are often segregated into classes composed only of recent immigrants from their own country and are rarely in contact with native-born Americans during the school day. They operate separately from other student groups in the school environment, and this can lead to cultural stereotyping and inter-group hostility (Ovando & Collier, 1998). According to Au (1993), one reason cultures might function separately centers on the theory of cultural discontinuity. This theory states that a possible mismatch of the culture of school and the culture of home results in misunderstandings between teachers and native students and new immigrant students in the school community. The culture of schools in the United States can often be seen as a dynamic system of values, beliefs, and standards developed through shared understandings. When new students who are unfamiliar with the existing culture enter the school community, they are often relegated to the status of outsiders and not invited to participate in existing social and academic structures (Igoa, 1995). This, coupled with forced classroom segregation, leads them to associate only with those of similar cultural backgrounds. In Iowa, we saw this segregation affecting a number of different cultural groups.
A certain degree of trust must be established between LEP and host culture students before recent immigrants are willing to share information about their life experiences prior to living in the United States. The idea here is to assist students with the achievement of the "general purpose of education--to bring our humanness to full flower" (Forshay, 1997, p. 323). In order for those of different cultures to explore emotions, build trust, and accept one another as human beings, a community of learners must develop (Brown, 1992). The formation of a community of learners allows for an openness of communication; a degree of familiarity and mutual respect; and an understanding of one another's skills, interests, and goals (Rogoff, 1990).
To break down the barriers between newly arrived immigrants and the school populations they join, effective intercultural communication must take place. Bridges must be built, using the tools of literacy. Narrow uses of literacy, typical of many classrooms, do not support the building of these bridges (McCaleb, 1994). Teachers interested in advancing interaction between cultures need to see students as active learners who use language and literacy as tools for inquiry, communication, and thinking (Moll & Gonzalez, 1994). Although...