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.”