ELL enrollment jumps

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— Steamboat Springs School District officials expected another increase in the enrollment of non-English-speaking students. They just didn't expect such a big increase.

The district's number of English Language Learners -- students whose native language is not English -- has almost doubled since last year. And school district officials said they are finding that their efforts aren't putting them ahead of the game but just about where they need to be.

"The need is greater than we expected, so in many ways, we're finding this is just in time," said Wren Lovett, an English as a Second Language teacher.

Enrollment of ELL students has increased from 36 students during the 2004-05 school year to 68 students in the early part of this year. Only 12 ELL students were enrolled during the 2002-03 school year. The vast majority of the ELL students are native Spanish speakers.

"The numbers are increasing quicker than I can keep up with," said Ann Sims, the district's director of curriculum and instruction.

The majority of ELL students are at Soda Creek Elementary School and Steamboat Springs Middle School, where 27 and 21 students, respectively, are enrolled. Seven ELL students attend Strawberry Park Elementary School, and 13 of Steamboat Springs High School's students are English Language Learners.

To address the growing ELL population, the district hired a full-time, certified English as a Second Language teacher. It also has a part-time ESL coordinator, and the district added a couple ESL aides.

The ESL teacher and coordinator positions were funded with $75,000 from the Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board, which administers the city's half-cent sales tax for education. The district pays the salaries of its two full-time ESL aides, and it is requesting support from the Fund Board to support a third full-time aide.

The district typically receives -- in addition to standard per-pupil funding -- an additional $100 for every enrolled ELL student from the state. It's not nearly enough to cover the extra costs associated with providing support for non-English-speaking students, said Dale Mellor, the district's director of finance and operations.

Instructional programs

ELL students typically learn in classrooms with their English-speaking peers. Aides work with the ELL students in those classrooms, sometimes pulling the students out of class for language work. ELL students at the middle and high school levels also take an ESL class.

The district assesses the English proficiency of each ELL student in assessments at the beginning of each school year. The students are re-tested at the end of the year, which helps the district track the progress of the students and ensures additional per-pupil funding.

To further attempt to accommodate the growing number of ELL students, the district has put in place a number of other programs specifically for non-English speakers. They include:

Lingo Lynx: This program teaches basic Spanish phrases to district administrators, staff and teachers. Lovett calls it "Survival Spanish." The class, which will be offered several times throughout the year, teaches phrases such as, "Raise your hand," "Do you need to go to the bathroom?" and "Wait here, someone who speaks Spanish will be with you shortly."

A parent education class: The six-week class is offered by Summer Laws, director of Comunidad Integrada, and uses the first three weeks to introduce Hispanic families to the Steamboat Springs educational system. The last three weeks of class are spent helping participants with any needs they might have, such as computer training. The $1,200 program is funded by a grant from the Yampa Valley Community Foundation.

Translating district documents: The district is using $1,000, also granted by the Yampa Valley Community Fou--ndation, to translate districtwide documents to Spanish. Remaining funds will be used to translate safety and emergency documents and school-specific documents.

The district is providing stipends to ESL aides who attend parent-teacher conferences and translate when needed.

The district curriculum team is meeting once a month to focus on the needs of ELL students and discuss concerns and ways to support the district's ESL program.

The district is looking for grants to hire a Spanish outreach worker for translating services and to help educate parents.

Advantages for all

"The growing population is causing us to really kind of move this to the forefront," Sims said about the district's efforts.

No matter how tight funds are, it is the district's responsibility to educate every student, Lovett said.

Some important steps don't cost anything. One is teaching English-speaking students to take the initiative to welcome ELL students and become their friends. Another is simply recognizing that although ELL students may not be able to speak English well, they are intelligent and have life experiences to share with their peers, in addition to other contributions they can make, Lovett said.

Each student brings something important and valuable to the table.

"Diversity's a benefit for everybody, because the more we learn about the world ... the more options we can see," Lovett said.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail scunningham@steamboatpilot.com

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