Kindergartner Luz Tarango listens to her teacher during art class Thursday at Strawberry Park Elementary School. The Steamboat Springs School District is seeing a growth of only six students this year.

Photo by John F. Russell

Kindergartner Luz Tarango listens to her teacher during art class Thursday at Strawberry Park Elementary School. The Steamboat Springs School District is seeing a growth of only six students this year.

ELL growth off the charts

English Language Learners enrollment nearly doubles

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— The number of English Language Learners in the Steamboat Springs School District has nearly doubled from the end of last year, with a total of 40 additional students in kindergarten and first grade alone.

Although the district's overall enrollment grew by only six students, according to preliminary counts, the subset of ELL students has grown and shows no sign of slowing down, said JoAnne Hilton-Gabeler, the district's director of curriculum, instruction and development.

"Right now, our numbers at the elementary schools are 35 (ELL students) at Soda Creek and 50 at Strawberry Park," she wrote in an e-mail. "The majority of (the kindergartners and first-graders) are non-English proficient."

Hilton-Gabeler said the number of ELL students in the upper grades is not confirmed, but she expects a total of about 115 students at Steamboat Springs Middle School and Steamboat Springs High School.

The cumulative amount of 200 ELL students is much higher than last year's total of about 110 ELL students in Steamboat.

"I expect our ELL population to stay on the upswing, and with a higher growth in kindergarten and first grade," Hilton-Gabeler wrote. "We are prepared, however, and the ELL specialists do a phenomenal job helping these children grow."

The district has hired an ELL liaison to help manage the increase in students, but Hilton-Gabeler said she does not expect any other hires to be necessary.

The district's overall enrollment has mirrored what administrators expected, but the increase of six students is not official and will not count for the state per-pupil funding until the beginning of October.

Although the overall number is nearly the same as last year, the middle school also has seen an increase in enrollment, and building principal Tim Bishop said he was forced to turn away students from other districts.

"For the first time in many years, I turned away 15 out-of-district kids," he said. "Our figures were too high to allow them. We have traditionally not had that problem."

Bishop said the middle school had 52 students new to the district enroll this year, and with a loss of only 10 to 15 students, the school still was above last year's numbers.

"It's always been nice to go and tell parents from other districts that sure, we'd love to have your student, but this year, we're full," he said.

The average class size at the middle school is 27 students, he said.

One class that has low enrollment has been the French class, with only three classes offered this year. Bishop said students, who are required to take a foreign language class, have been turning to Spanish in recent years.

"The Spanish is really blooming right now," he said. "I think that's mostly due to the geography of where we live."

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