District beefs up training for language teachers

Growing number of students don't speak English at home

Posted: Wednesday, June 14, 2000

The Juneau School District, facing rising numbers of students identified as needing extra help with English, will provide more training for classroom teachers over the next few years.

``There is an acute need to train all district staff in diverse ways of teaching diverse students, in order to increase their academic skills,'' the district said in its state-required plan to serve students in the English as a Second Language and English Language Learner program.

The district wants shared ownership of all the staff for these students, said Charla Wright, the district's ESL/ELL program coordinator.

This spring, 193 students were identified as ESL students, and 415 were identified as ELL. Students in the Juneau schools speak 37 languages. Filipino languages and Spanish are the two largest categories of foreign tongues spoken.

ESL refers to students who do not speak English as their first language. English Language Learner has replaced the phrase Limited English Proficiency. It refers to students who speak English but who come from families where parents or grandparents may speak another language, such as Tlingit, or not speak academic English. Tlingits make up the largest single group of students in the ESL/ELL program.

The number of students identified as ELL is certain to rise, if only because the district hasn't yet identified those students at the high school level. The district's new plan will identify ELL students at Juneau-Douglas High School, Wright said.

In the past school districts didn't identify ELL students. Bernie Sorenson, the principal at Glacier Valley Elementary and the district's former ESL coordinator, said some people wonder why Native students are included in the program.

Native students speak English, ``so we make cultural assumptions they are who we are and they fit into society,'' Sorenson told the school board at a work session Tuesday. ``That's an assumption we can't make.''

Only a few generations ago, Southeast Natives spoke Tlingit, and it's only for a few generations that Natives have been educated under the current system. The English that Native students need to survive in schools has to be taught, Sorenson said.

The district will continue the current staffing in the ESL/ELL program of half-time teachers in the elementary schools, except for Riverbend, which has a full-time teacher because of its large number of affected students. The middle schools and JDHS will have a full-time teacher.

Those specialists help students within the regular classrooms and in small separate groups. Many of the teachers also offer before- and after-school help.

``With services, these kids really do succeed,'' said Molly Manning, the ESL/ELL teacher at Floyd Dryden Middle School. After a four-month, one-hour-a-day class before school for seven students, six had improved two years in reading comprehension, she said.

But Manning said she can help only about half of the Floyd Dryden students identified as ESL or ELL. That's about the district's standard, too. About 54 percent of ESL/ELL students are served by specialists in various English programs, up from 34 percent two years ago.

Sorenson said Glacier Valley follows a fully inclusive model, in which the literacy and ESL specialists are used to lower the student-teacher ratio in classrooms as many times a day as possible. Teachers focus on students who aren't meeting academic standards.

In her dream model, every teacher would be an ESL/ELL specialist, Sorenson told the school board.

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