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That explanation is too simplistic for Patricia Gandara, a University of California at Davis professor of education and Sacramento resident. She believes that teachers and administrators stereotype students on the basis of race. There are plenty of examples--from the teacher who asked a Latino boy if his parents had jobs (his mother was a school principal) to the Mexican child in an advanced-placement class who was asked whether she was Asian (her classmates couldn't imagine that a Latina could perform so well). "The schools make assumptions along class lines about which parents care and which don't, and parents and children begin to read those signs very early," Gandara says.
The district is making some progress in closing the gap. One effective method: home visits, which foster a relationship between teachers and parents and encourage working together to meet a child's needs. Suggested by a parent in 1998, the program helped boost reading scores in the district's elementary schools 36% and math scores 73% (reading and math scores are still only at the 46th and 59th national percentile, respectively).
THE MOST SEGREGATED HOUR
It is Sunday morning in Sacramento's Meadowview community, and hundreds of Russian-speaking immigrants--men in dark suits, women in traditional head scarves, children excited about the latest X-box game--are thronging into the First Slavic Evangelical Baptist Church. A couple of blocks away, African Americans fill the sanctuary at Twenty-Fourth Street Baptist Church to listen to the Rev. Samuel Mullinax preach the same Gospel. An hour later, Latinos begin filing into the pews of nearby St. Anne's Catholic Church for a Spanish-language Mass. Meadowview residents live together, but many pray separately.
More than 30 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. famously said that "the 11 o'clock hour on Sunday is the most segregated hour in American life." It's an indictment that still carries weight today, as an estimated 90% of Americans worship primarily with members of their race or ethnicity. Yet Sacramento's complex social tapestry challenges conventional notions that racial segregation in worship is a failure of America's national ideal of equality. Sometimes segregation is driven not by bigotry but by language barriers and cultural heritage.
When Ukrainian immigrant Tamila Demyanik says, through an interpreter, that "the church is the major part of my life," it is no understatement. To the Demyaniks, First Slavic is a lifeline in a foreign land. Her husband buys bread at First Slavic and checks its bulletin board and a Russian phone book for community information. Longtime church members accustomed to America provide emotional support to newcomers and help them negotiate thickets of red tape in health care, housing and more.
Kevin Armstrong, a United Methodist pastor and director of the Religion and Public Teaching Project, based in Indianapolis, Ind., concedes that segregation, whether voluntary or compulsory, seems at odds with religious ideals. But he argues that the outcome often justifies the practice, particularly in immigrant communities. "They preserve their tradition," Armstrong explains, "sing in their native language, eat the food of their own culture, [and are] with people who remember what their land looks like and who their people are."
SHADES OF BLUE