03/09/04 — Number of foreign languages in schools growing

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Number of foreign languages in schools growing

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 9, 2004 2:01 PM

The number of foreign languages spoken in the schools continues to rise steadily, with Wayne County ranking third in the state for growth.

There are 22 languages represented in the public schools, as compared with 19 reported last year, said Hope Meyerhoeffer, director of the English-as-a-second-language program. She shared statistics with the school board on Monday night but noted that the numbers are changing rapidly.

She presented the number of students in the English-as-a-second-language program for the school year 2002-2003 and the first portion of 2003-2004. The latest total is 1,793 as compared with 1,280 recorded last year.

Ms. Meyerhoeffer said that number has grown by 150 since October, and she expects it will go up another 150 before the end of the school year.

The largest number of students -- 1,471 -- are Spanish-speaking, she said, with increases also in the number of Arabic, Cantonese, Chinese and Korean students.

Hispanics make up 35 percent of Spring Creek Elementary School's population, she said, with the next largest at Brogden Primary with 22 percent. Spring Creek High School has an estimated 19 percent.

Another program, Limited English Proficient or English Language Learners, has also shown an increase of 315 students. From 2002-2003, there were 728 enrolled; in 2003-2004, there were 1,043.

While the number of students climbs, though, the number of teachers has not always kept pace, Ms. Meyerhoeffer said. It would be ideal to have 10 students in a class but with more than 1,000 students to teach, that has not been possible.

"Up until three months ago, Brogden Primary had teachers who try to instruct 95 students a day," she said. "We have since added another part-time teacher there to assist."

She said the school system has 17 full-time and seven part-time teachers. The full-time teachers are assigned to the elementary schools and part-time teachers usually serve in the middle and high schools, she said.

Some school systems offer the language programs once or twice a week, which Ms. Meyerhoeffer said offers no benefits overall. The ideal, she said, is to run the program daily, which Wayne County does.

The proof is in the test scores. The majority of students enrolled are scoring at higher levels on the end-of-grade tests, she said.

"I would put our staff up against anybody in the state," she told the board.

Board member Rick Pridgen commended Ms. Meyerhoeffer and the program's teachers for producing the results they have. He said it will be important to build on that, since the trend is not going to change.

"These numbers are not going to get smaller," he said of the population shift. "They're only going to grow. We have to prepare ourselves for that, with future education."