NEWARK – The number of English Language Learner (ELL) students in Worcester County public schools has nearly tripled since 2001.
“The population continues to grow,” said Diane Stulz, who runs the ELL program for the Worcester County Board of Education. “We went up by 10.4 percent over last year.”
Worcester County schools teach 233 ELL students currently, compared to 211 students last year and 202 the year before. In 2001, the school system had just 78 ELL students. The ELL population of Worcester County schools saw big jumps in 2003 and 2004 and steady increases of 10 or 20 a year students since then.
One reason for the increase is the reputation of Worcester County’s school system, Stulz said, which attracts parents from neighboring Delaware counties specifically to send their children to Worcester County schools.
The fastest growing ELL population is Arabic speaking students. Last year, Worcester had two Arabic ELL students, while this year there are 12.
A chart supplied by Stulz at the Tuesday Board of Education meeting shows 157 Spanish speaking ELL students, 14 Urdu speaking students, 12 Arabic speaking students and six each Chinese and Vietnamese ELL speakers. Worcester ELL students also speak 11 other languages, including Portuguese, Tagalog, Bulgarian and Turkish.
About 80 percent of English language learners live in the north end of the county, with about 69 percent of the total ELL population in elementary school.
Ocean City Elementary and Buckingham Elementary schools have the highest number of students in the ELL program. Stephen Decatur High School has the third highest ELL population.
“The majority of our [ELL] students are also born in the U.S.,” said Stulz.
ELL students tend to come from homes where another language than English is spoken, she said.
Worcester County schools offers a lot of support for parents of the ELL students, including translating school handbooks in the north end into Spanish. Teachers and staff can also take advantage of Spanish for communication classes.
The school system uses interpreters, 12 Spanish and one Arabic, to help teachers talk to parents. Stulz anticipates adding a Russian interpreter soon.
Students tend to need three to seven years to master academic English and exit the ELL program.