District beefs up ELL program | SteamboatToday.com
Michelle Perry

Back to: News

District beefs up ELL program

Susana Lopez will graduate from Moffat County High School in December, which is more than many Hispanic students can say.

Nationally, more than 25 percent of Hispanic students drop out of high school — higher than any other demographic — according to the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of the Census’ October 2000 report.

But Lopez said she’s had an encouraging educational career. She moved to California from the state of Michoacan, Mexico, when she was 3. She came to Craig at age 13 and found her Anglo counterparts to be accepting.

It helped that she had a support system of other Hispanic students in her grade.

“Maybe if I was the only one it might be different,” Lopez said.

Pete Bergmann, superintendent of the Moffat County School District, said she is far from the “only one.” Last year, 121 students — 95 percent of whom were native Spanish speakers — used the district’s English Language Learners services.

“We’ve really put a lot of resources and staff development into meeting the needs of the Hispanic population and students,” Bergmann said.

But the district did not always have a clear picture of its ELL needs. In about 1990, the Hispanic population in the schools was in continual flux because of the seasonal ranch work in the area.

“We didn’t know from year to year if they would go back to Mexico or stay in Craig,” Bergmann said. “It was a very unstable population. We didn’t know in the fall who would show up.”

By 1995, the number of Hispanics, and Hispanic students, was on the rise. The majority of them were in the elementary schools, so the 25 children were bused to Ridgeview Elementary School for ELL classes.

Within a couple of years, the number had grown to 50, and by 1998, the district expanded its ELL services to all elementary schools, so students could attend the buildings in their neighborhoods. Eventually, every building had a paraprofessional specializing in ELL coursework.

The number of students using the ELL program peaked at 150 a few years ago and has leveled to 121 for the 2004-05 school year. Bergmann attributes the trend to graduating seniors and students who became English-proficient and no longer need ELL services.

Although the district saw a high Hispanic dropout rate just a few years ago, Bergmann said the trend is reversing as families begin to recognize the importance of education and learning English.

He cited Hugo Quezada as an example of a student who has been in the Moffat County system nearly all his school career. Quezada was named the Outstanding Male Student for his class at his graduation this spring.

“I think that shows when we have students for the long haul, they’re very successful,” Bergmann said.

ELL students make up 5 percent of the 2,400 students in the Moffat County School District.

The Steamboat Springs School District doesn’t have nearly that many, Super-intendent Donna Howell said.

This year, the number of Hispanic students rose to 38, comprising 1.9 percent of the student body.

“(The numbers have) been gradually climbing,” she said. “We anticipate it’s going to be a growing population, so that’s why we’re hiring the new positions.”

Howell intends to bring on an ELL teacher and half-time coordinator for the coming school year. The positions will be funded through the Board of Cooperative Educational Services Consortium and Education Fund Board.

When the teacher and coordinator are on board, Howell plans to meet with them to take a hard look at how the district is handling its ELL population and whether its practices should change. That meeting is expected to take place in early August.

Until now, the district has followed an inclusionary program: ELL students spend most of the school day in the regular classroom, hopefully integrating with their peers, and are pulled occasionally to do one-on-one work with ELL aides.

“The whole philosophy behind inclusion is it’s the least restrictive environment,” Howell said. “The district embraces the philosophy.”

Bergmann said he also has hired a “highly-qualified” full-time coordinator/teacher who will be stationed at Moffat County High School for the upcoming school year, as well. The district employed one before, but she did not have the certifications the new coordinator does.

He’s hoping the changes being made will continue to improve the already strong program the district has created.

“We really feel like we have a model now that will handle that ELL population for quite a while,” Bergmann said. “I think our plan is to really develop the quality of our program.”

To contact Mich-elle- Perry, call 824-7031 or e-mail mperry@–craigdailypress.com