Twelve University of Tennessee-Martin students recently encountered culture
shock, including gangs in schools, during two weeks of teaching in El Paso,
Texas, across the Rio Grande from Mexico.

"The gangs and graffiti are everywhere, but I never felt unsafe there,"
said Shelly Ward of Sedalia, Ky.

Cindy Kelley of Clifton, who graduated from UT-Martin in May, said some
gangs in the El Paso school district recruit students as early as the
second grade.

Allison Griffin of Bells said girls, as well as boys, engage in gang
activity there.

The UTM students, all planning to become teachers, said they did not have
to deal with gang-related problems because gang activities in the schools
where they taught are focused on other gangs, not on outsiders.

Some Mexican children are brought by their parents across the border to
live with relatives so they can attend school in El Paso, the UTM students

At one elementary school, said Jill Maxwell of Paris, Tenn., 98 percent of
the children are in the federal free lunch program. But all of the children
there were well-groomed and well-dressed.

"(Mexican) families put their children first," she said. "If there's any
extra money, it goes to the children."

Amanda Hicks of Camden said some of the third-graders she taught acted as
interpreters for their parents who did not speak English.

Griffin said her experience in El Paso would help if she teaches in her
home county because area industries are hiring workers from other cultures
who are moving to West Tennessee.

"We not only learned about another culture (in El Paso), but also about
ourselves and our capabilities," she said.

Dr. Merribeth Bruning, UTM education professor who accompanied the students
to El Paso, said the United States is receiving the largest number of
immigrants since the turn of the century.