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County's Ethnic Changes Spill Over To Schools
NEWARK - Further evidence of the changing face of Worcester County was revealed last week during the Worcester County Board of Education monthly meeting when it was reported the number of students enrolled in the school system's English Language Learner (ELL) program has increased by 215 percent since 2000.
Worcester County Schools ELL Coordinator Diane Stulz told school board members the current number of students in grades Pre-K through 12 enrolled in the program is 202, although the figure is constantly changing, from a seven-year low of 64 in 2000. The majority of the ELL students are in grades pre-K through third grade and nearly half, 46.5 percent, live in the north end of the county.
Stulz said the number is constantly changing because of the influx of non-English speaking families in Worcester, particularly in the north end.
'That's the current number as of October,' she said. 'It's a moving target because of the transient population. Some days, it's 205, some days, it's 197.'
Students in the ELL program speak 22 different languages and come from 24 different countries. The majority, 40 percent, come from Mexico, while another large percentage, 37 percent, were born in the U.S. to parents who speak a language other than English in their home. Consequently, an overwhelming majority of the students in the program, 140 out of 202, speak Spanish as their primary language.
The county school system has adapted to changing demographics in Worcester by adding more instructors to the ELL program over the years. For example, in 2002, there were two full-time and two part-time ELL teachers and there are currently 10 full time ELL teachers.
According to Stulz, many factors influence English language acquisition including the age of a student when beginning to learn a second language, whether the student is literate in his or her first language, the cultural diversity of the student and the socio-economic status of the student. Most come to Worcester County with little or no English, according to Stulz, who said the earlier in their academic career the students begin to learn English, the more likely it will be for them to acquire proficiency.
For others, age and limitations in their education prior to entering Worcester County public schools and the ELL program put them behind the eight ball in terms of getting up to speed, according to Stulz.
'Some come to us at 14 or 15 years of age and they can't add or subtract,' she said. 'Some can't read or write in their own language. The majority have one year or less in English language instruction.'
A variety of instruction methods are being implemented to improve the success of the ELL students. For example, students are often pulled from their regular classrooms to receive hands-on instruction from the ELL teachers. In other cases, the ELL teacher works collaboratively with the regular classroom teachers in the classroom.
Parent involvement is the key to success for all students, but is even more important for those learning English while trying to succeed in regular course work. Several programs have been initiated to encourage parents of ELL students to participate in school events and parent conferences by breaking down the language barriers that exist between teachers and administrators and the parents.
For example, school handbooks at several north end schools including Stephen Decatur Middle, Berlin Intermediate and Showell Elementary have already been translated into Spanish with other school handbooks expected to be translated next year.
According to Stulz, regular classroom teachers are often apprehensive about having students who do not speak or understand English in their classroom, but there are staff development programs implemented to help teachers understand the needs of ELL students and the process by which a second language is acquired. For example, there are workshops scheduled for teachers in April including Spanish for the Classroom Teacher and Spanish for Communication.
Stulz said the comprehensive ELL program is achieving the desired results. 'Despite the odds, I think we're doing well,' she said. 'They're making progress.'
In general, school board members were impressed with the ELL program and its progress. Board member Doug Dryden was particularly interested in the parent involvement portions of the program.
'Getting parents involved must be difficult, but we all know how important it is for parents to be involved in a child's education,' said Dryden.
Others said they have witnessed the ELL program first hand and were pleased with the success of students otherwise at risk.
'I've seen it in action,' said school board member Bob Hulburd. 'You've been able to get these students who might fall through the cracks and get them on the right track.'
Board president Garry Mumford encouraged Stulz to continue the good work on the ELL program and suggested the growth in the enrollment will likely increase.
'It looks like we're out in front on this,' said Mumford. 'We're going to have a more diverse population as more and more people move in to the area.'