Immigrant students' needs eyed

Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services to assist ELL children

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The Steamboat Springs School District isn't the only Northwest Colorado school system with a growing population of non-English speaking students.

With several school districts in the region experiencing an increase in the enrollment of students who speak Spanish or other languages at home, the Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services is considering hiring a coordinator to help districts meet the needs of their English language learner, or ELL, students.

Northwest BOCES executive director Jane Toothaker said officials from the seven area districts served by the cooperative educational service have discussed hiring an English as a Second Language program coordinator to work with the school systems. The Northwest BOCES districts are Steamboat Springs, Hayden, South Routt, East Grand, West Grand, Moffat County and North Park. Northwest BOCES provides shared services and programs to supplement and support the districts' efforts. Its primary focus is to provide special education services.

Although the decision to hire an ESL coordinator hasn't been made, the proposed coordinator would focus on providing professional development for teachers and staff, working with schools on assessments for their non-English speaking students and researching and acquiring ESL materials and resources, Toothaker said. Staff development would be the primary focus of the position because teachers need to learn effective techniques for teaching non-English speaking students.

"We feel staff development is probably the most important piece," she said.

The coordinator position would be the starting point for what is likely to become an increased effort on the part of area school districts and the Northwest BOCES to address the needs of their growing ELL populations.

"We really want to do what's best for those students," Toothaker said.

The Steamboat Springs, West Grand and East Grand school districts have experienced significant increases in ELL enrollment over the past couple of years, Toothaker said. The Moffat County School District has been dealing with the trend for about a decade and has an ESL coordinator of its own. The Hayden and South Routt school districts haven't experienced as significant growth in their non-English speaking populations as some of the other districts, Toothaker said.

"It's still in the talking stages," Toothaker said about the possible coordinator position. "But I feel like all districts have some needs in this area."

Northwest BOCES and each of the participating districts would fund the position.

In related news, the Steamboat Springs School District's administrative team will recommend that the Education Fund Board pay the salary of a full-time ESL coordinator/teacher for the district. The administrative team also will recommend that the Fund Board partially fund the proposed Northwest BOCES ESL coordinator position, Steamboat director of curriculum and instruction Kelly Stanford said Wednesday. Steamboat's non-English speaking population has increased from about a dozen students a couple of years ago to nearly 40 students this year.

Stanford said a district ESL coordinator would work directly with classroom teachers, ESL aides and ELL students.

"It would allow us to better meet the needs of the students we currently have and meet the needs of the students we anticipate will continue to enroll in future years," Stanford said.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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