Thursday, May 20, 2010

Increase in Non-English Speakers Raises New Need

By Paul Thompson

The crowd inside Baptiste Educational Center’s gymnasium clapped thunderously. They whistled, stomped their feet, and cheered like they were at a raucous sporting event. But there was no competition, only pride, as parents cheered on their children who were participating in a “Celebrating Different Cultures” program.

This was the Hickman Mills C-1 School District’s English Language Learners (ELL) Parent Night, and the capacity crowd was there to enjoy many different styles of music, food, and dance. And there were plenty of cultures represented.

Between all the students participating in the ELL program in the Hickman Mills District, there are more than 25 different languages spoken, including Spanish, Korean, Arabic and Urdu.

The popularity of the evening underscored one hard-to-miss reality: there were an awful lot of people there that night. The trend in attendance at the ELL Parent Night mirrors the increase in non-English speakers throughout Grandview and South Kansas City.

Grandview’s C-4 District has seen an increase in students to its ELL program in each of the last four years. In 2005-2006, the Grandview School District had just 187 participants.  The 74 additional participants since then account for about 28% of the total number of students involved in ELL. The district now employs six full-time ELL teachers for the 261 students participating, and operates with a budget of just below $400,000.

In the Hickman Mills District, there are over 300 students participating in the ELL program. That’s why the district thinks it is so important to have a night celebrating diversity and the many cultures that are represented in the area.

“I think it’s important to recognize the diversity in the district,” said Hickman Mills C-1 District Superintendant Dr. Marge Williams. “Every year it seems like it gets larger and larger, and they’re excited about coming out and getting to celebrate their countries and their culture.”

The ELL programs at both school districts  are made available to help ease the transition for these students as they assimilate to the language and culture. The duties of the staff include instruction in English, collaboration with general education teachers on instructional strategies, as well as working with parents to let them know what they can do for their children.

Sometimes though, parents could use as much help with learning English as their children. 30% of ELL students do not speak English at home, which is a sign that the adults moving into the area who don’t speak fluent English could use some help along with their kids when it comes to learning resources. The Grandview Branch of the Mid-Continent Library is one outstanding source for just that type of help.

Over the past few months, Grandview’s library has been putting together an extensive Spanish Section for their branch.  The decision to put more emphasis on the section came as the number of Spanish-speaking individuals seeking to learn English increased at the library.

“We’ve always had a small Spanish language section, and we really started to expand it starting January and Feburary,” said Grandview Branch Manager Robert Miller.

The Mid-Continent Library has budgeted $25,000 for Spanish Section materials, to be split between the Grandview and Antioch branches.  The early response has been positive. Miller noted that the materials can be helpful to almost anyone.

“We get responses not only from Spanish speaking people, but also from teachers from local schools who have borrowed materials for their classrooms,” said Miller, who noted that some of their new materials are bilingual, which means they can also help English-speaking people learn Spanish.

Miller says that most of their initial haul of new materials consists of non-fiction items. It is what most of his patrons are interested in. Those are the types of materials that help Spanish-speaking individuals in their day-to-day lives.

“We are focusing a lot on self-help,” Miller said about their new collection. “How to do taxes, finding a job, becoming a citizen, home maintenance, are all common check-outs.”

With any luck, the resources available at the library can give adults the same advantages their kids receive through the ELL program.  If the enthusiasm for the new library section can match the enthusiasm for ELL’s Parent Night, it should be a sure thing.

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