Salisbury State program trains students to teach ESOL classes

Immigrant population up in Eastern Shore schools

August 29, 1999|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

SALISBURY -- After a decade or more of stretching meager staff and resources to handle a wave of immigrant children, Eastern Shore school administrators say a home-grown program at Salisbury State University could soon boost the number of teachers for pupils who speak and read little or no English.

The goal is simple -- provide a trained cadre of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) instructors in rural school districts in 10 counties on the Maryland and Virginia Shore.

The $1.1 million Bilingual Careers Education program -- one of 36 federally funded efforts across the country -- has awarded 41 scholarships to public school teachers, students and working adults who want to pursue careers in bilingual education.

"When we started the program in November, there were only eight certified ESOL teachers in this whole area," said director Loni Moyer. "There is a critical shortage of ESOL teachers everywhere, and it's worse in small school districts."

This fall, 15 teachers from local school districts will begin working toward master's degrees in Salisbury State's TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) program. Eight students about to enter college have received four-year grants worth $5,000 a year to pursue bachelor's degrees that will lead to certification as ESOL teachers.

Eighteen scholarships have gone to bilingual adults who will study part time, taking up to three courses a semester toward teaching certificates.

Attracting local people

"It's really crucial to have a program based here because you're going to draw local people who will enter or continue working in the local school systems," said Holly Fadden, a foreign- and secondary-language specialist for the state Education Department.

Sylvanna Rivas, 23, a Nicaraguan whose family moved to Accomack County, Va., when she was 9, says a four-year scholarship will allow her to remain in her adopted hometown of Locustville to teach and counsel Hispanic pupils.

"I want to major in psychology and be certified to teach so I can work with children," Rivas said. "There are a lot of Hispanic children in Accomack County, and I don't see that there is much help for them."

The first hurdle for teachers, however, is that any ESOL classroom is likely to be filled with pupils who speak a variety of languages.

The real challenge then is teaching children to read, write and speak English, even when the teacher does not speak the pupil's native language.

"That's the first thing everybody asks when you say you're an ESOL teacher: `What language do you speak?' " said Lorrie Verplaetse, former director of Salisbury State's ESOL master's program. "It doesn't matter how many languages you speak, there is always going to be a student who speaks a language you don't understand."

Another issue for teachers is the difficulty of teaching reading to pupils who are not literate in their own language. Many pupils, especially those from poor counties, have never learned to read and write.

"On the Eastern Shore, there are so many students arriving who have had little formal education or whose learning has been interrupted," Verplaetse said. "The magic of decoding starts with learning that a sound is a symbol for a particular word. Then it's learning that this written or printed scribbling is a symbol. You frequently have a child who appears to be a third-grader who's never learned to read."

Eastern Shore presence

Maryland has an estimated 17,000 ESOL pupils, with the largest concentrations in suburban Washington and Baltimore.

But Eastern Shore school districts have seen steady increases as families from Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe have been drawn by abundant jobs, particularly in the poultry industry.

A 1997 survey completed by the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, which includes Delaware and nine Maryland counties, estimated that as many as 40,000 Hispanics live permanently on the Delmarva Peninsula. Local officials say 2,500 of Salisbury's 25,000 residents and more than 7,000 of Wicomico County's 80,000 people are from Latin America.

In recent years, growing numbers of Haitian, Korean, Vietnamese and Pakistani immigrants have arrived. In Wicomico, school officials say the nearly 200 ESOL pupils in county schools speak 19 languages.

Last year, more than 700 non-English-speaking pupils were enrolled in ESOL programs in the 10 Maryland and Virginia counties.

`Such great need'

Idalia Yienger, 35, a Panamanian whose husband is an Air Force sergeant stationed in Dover, Del., works part time as an ESOL tutor in Caroline County's Even Start program, which provides English classes and other help to immigrant families.

Yienger will begin studying for a teaching degree this fall at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills. She plans to transfer to Salisbury State.

"There are so many Latin people in my life," Yienger said. "I can help them communicate. My kids are completely Americanized, but these people arriving now have such great need."

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