02/09/06 — Schools see more foreign students

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Schools see more foreign students

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 9, 2006 1:56 PM

An estimated 2,045 youngsters in Wayne County Public Schools are non-English-speaking students, with 21 different languages represented, school officials say.

The number of students increased this school year by 173, up from 1,872 in 2004-05, said Hope Meyerhoeffer, director of the English as a Second Language program for the public school system.

They are considered National Origin Minority Students, or NOMS, she said. Another category for the students is Limited English Proficient or English Language Learners, which total 1,066 as compared to last year's total of 1,063. But that doesn't mean only three new students entered the program, she said.

"Many of these students exited the program, and we had others to come in to replace them," she said.

The most prominent language or culture represented is Spanish, with 1,765 students, she said. Next in line is the Asian population, which includes Cantonese-Chinese, 78; Chinese, 39; Korean, 36; Mandarin-Chinese, 16; Japanese and Vietnamese, three each; and Thai, two.

There are also 32 students categorized as Arabic-Egyptian-Lebanese and 30 American Indians, with a smattering of other cultures represented from Hindi and Portuguese to Punjabi and Teluga.

Mrs. Meyerhoeffer said Wayne County is not leading the state, but is certainly high on the list of those districts having the largest number of languages.

Teaching those students are 21 full-time educators and five who are part-time, she said. Each teacher works with an average of 43 students, she said, but might have as many as 60.

Mrs. Meyerhoeffer praised the slate of ESL teachers working at 26 schools.

"They're involved with their students, they work with their students constantly, and when there's improvements, you can see those teachers light up," she said.

While more teachers would be beneficial, she said the success of the programs has been impressive.

"We only had two (program) dropouts in high school, and that has improved over the years because that number has actually been a lot larger," she said, noting that it is not unusual in some cultures for a teen to drop out of high school to enter the work force. "We have been trying to educate them to stay in school, have talked to parents, and I think we're becoming very successful in that."

Changing requirements and imposed mandates present some challenges, though, she said.

"Because of No Child Left Behind, we have had to make a lot of changes. One of those was textbooks being required," she said. "There were also federal mandates for all of our testing. They're going to make it more difficult.

"They're tested on comprehension and also on writing. That's children in kindergarten being tested in those areas, too. That's very difficult, but this is required by a federal mandate."

Gale Hoey of Spring Creek Elementary School introduced some of her students to the school board Monday night to illustrate some of what they had learned.

Miguel Soria, a fourth-grader born in Mexico who has been in the United States for four years, said, "My ESL class helped me pass the writing and EGO test. They made me real proud of myself. My school is the best."

Lily Li is originally from China. The fourth-grader came to this country last year.

Mrs. Hoey said, "Lily has been my teacher. There was a lot about China I did not know."

"I was born in China. Sometimes I tell something about China to her, and now I feel really proud of everything," Lily said.

Maria Rumirez Olmo is an ESL teacher at Greenwood Middle School and is originally from Bogota, Colombia.

"It's really interesting and wonderful working with my students to understand and speak English," she said.