SALISBURY – A $2.73 million grant is expected to help school systems throughout the state improve services for students struggling to learn English.
The U.S. Office of English Language Acquisition, the federal agency charged with training educators who work with immigrants, has announced $2.73 million in funding for a project authored by Salisbury University’s Anjali Pandey. The project proposed by Pandey, a professor of applied linguistics and teaching English as a second language, was ranked the highest of the 337 submitted nationwide. It was the only one funded in Maryland.
“We’re really, really proud,” Pandey said. “It was a very competitive project.”
According to Pandey, the project will provide professional development for educators and at the same time give the parents of English language learners resources to help their children. The idea is to start at the top, better preparing administrators to work with English learners, but to also increase professional development for teachers and give parents access to resources.
“We’re training all stakeholders so everyone is on the same page,” Pandey said.
In Wicomico County’s public schools, enrollment in the English as a Second Language (ESOL) program has nearly tripled in the past decade. In the fall of 2006, there were 274 students enrolled. That number has increased every year since. As of Oct. 31, 2016, there were 799 students enrolled. Those students speak more than two dozen different languages.
Tracy Sahler, spokeswoman for the school system, said jobs were what brought the majority of the families from other countries to the area.
“Greater labor demands in the poultry industry from companies such as Mountaire Farms, Perdue, Tyson and Amick Foods employ families of our ESOL students,” she said. “Numbers have increased for our ESOL families from Vietnam, Portugal, Central America and the Middle East to work in these factories and a variety of businesses in the community.”
Because the percentage of ESOL students is increasing not just in Wicomico but statewide, all of the local school systems expressed interest in participating in Pandey’s project, which aims to train more than 500 participants during the next five years.
“It just tells you districts are having to proactively design their practices for large amounts of newcomers,” she said.
The project’s aim will be threefold, according to Pandey. It will focus on making administrators, teachers and parents better equipped.
“The project has a strong family and school partnership focus,” Pandey said.
Professional development opportunities will be provided to participating educators. Through those classes, they’ll be given advice on ways to be effective at teaching English and at the same time empathetic. Pandey stresses the importance of respecting a student’s first language and the culture he or she comes from.
“There’s a focus on having teachers understand what experience is,” she said. “The role of the teacher is not just to educate on content but to ensure uniqueness is maintained. A lot of our students feel very alienated.”
In addition, Pandey’s team will work to provide parents information on the subtleties of the American education system that aren’t always understood by immigrants.
“All of that invisible information we know as citizens of the United States that newcomers might not be aware of,” she said.
Overall, Pandey believes the project will enhance ESOL programs throughout the area, improving student achievement and at the same time reminding educators of the importance of the roughly 300 languages that enter the United States each year. Languages, she says, are resources that cannot be replaced.
“One language dies every two weeks,” she said. “Your language is your identity. If you lose that you lose a huge part of yourself. We’re hoping our tools are not going to make students choose one identity over another identity.”
According to Salisbury University, this is the fourth successfully funded multi-year project written by Pandey. It’s the largest single discretionary funded project awarded to the school to date.