02/18/14 — Non-English speakers increasing in schools

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Non-English speakers increasing in schools

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 18, 2014 1:46 PM

The number of languages represented in Wayne County Public Schools might have dropped slightly this year, but the number of non-English-speaking students, and those categorized as "immigrants" continue to climb.

Hope Meyerhoeffer, director of the district's English as a Second Language program, presented the annual report to the school board recently. She explained the parameters of the ESL program, which includes Limited English Proficiency, or LEP, and National Origin Minorities, or NOMs, any child whose primary language is not English.

"We had 2,757 (students) last year, with 35 languages. This year, we have 3,183 enrollment with 31 languages," she said. "It's amazing for Wayne County to have that many languages."

Of course, there are the more familiar ones, like Japanese, French and German. And then there are a variety of Chinese dialects, including Mandarin, Min Nah and Cantonese, the latter having 105 this year, Mrs. Meyerhoeffer said.

"We have 100 Arabics, 84 Haitian Creoles. These are the larger numbers. Only Spanish is the largest, 2,814," she said.

With each passing year, however, there are growing numbers of languages many have never heard of -- like Malayalam (India), Tigrenia (South Africa), Urhobo (Nigeria) and Visa Yan (Philippines).

The number of LEP students rose by 147 this year, from 1,569 to 1,716. But that might not be an accurate representation, Mrs. Meyerhoeffer said.

"This figure was taken the first or second day of January," she said. "We have had since then about 45 or 50 new students coming in and all of our schools are experiencing these. Most of them are Haitians that are moving in at this time."

The reason for the surge, she explained, is because of living conditions in Haiti, prompting many to seek refuge in the U.S.

The immigrant count, representing students born in another country who have lived in America for three years or less, has also gone up. In 2012-13, there were 173 in that category. This year, there are 239.

"In February, we have to turn over to the state and federal government the immigrant count," Mrs. Meyerhoeffer said. "My federal grant depends on the number of immigrant students. Every year, the more I have, the more funds I can utilize to work with these students."

Interestingly, she pointed out, despite the growing number of students served in the ESL program, the number of full-time teachers working with them has only risen slightly, from 21 to 23, while the number of part-time teachers remains at 7.

"That means basically that they teach another language as well. That means if they work with ESL, they would have at least 50 students apiece. Normally, you can only work with five at a time," she told the board. "So, if I request another teacher, you might remember that."

Perhaps the most impressive statistic, though, is the success rate of students in the program -- not only in picking up the English language, but in succeeding in other areas.

Data from the previous year indicated students had done quite well in the "domains" they were tested on, reading, writing, listening and speaking. As a result, they were able to exit the program successfully.

In addition, the program has a high success rate of students passing proficiency tests in all of their academic subject areas.

This, Mrs. Meyerhoeffer said, could be attributed to "excellent teaching."

Through federal funds supporting the program, the district was able to hire ESL tutors to assist the classroom teachers and ESL teachers, working with students individually. At present, she says she has about 16 tutors.

"We're really proud of our teachers that we have, the tutors that we have and I have an excellent lead teacher, Wanda Nieves, and she does so much for this program," she said.