Letters To the Editor

Letters To the Editor

December 28, 2003

Carroll schools serve ESOL students

You may be surprised to learn that the Carroll County public school system provides services for students speaking 15 languages. These students arrive in Carroll County from countries around the world and different parts of the United States.

The program that provides assistance to these students is called English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). The Maryland state definition of an ESOL student is someone "who was born outside of the United States or whose native language is not English; the student comes from an environment where a language other than English is dominant; or the student is an American Indian or Alaskan Native and comes from an environment where a language other than English has had a significant impact on the student's level of English proficiency."

Presently, there are 83 students in 26 of our schools who were born outside of the United States or whose native language is not English. Most of these students are enrolled in elementary schools.

Most ESOL students in Carroll County continue to be native Spanish speakers, with an increasing number of students who speak Russian or Gujarati (India). Other languages include Tagalog (Philippines), Bulgarian, Mandarin, Czech, Portuguese, Cantonese, Thai, Urdu (Pakistan), Vietnamese, Lithuanian, Italian, and Korean.

In Carroll County, English language learners are first identified during registration for school using a Home Language survey. A parent or interpreter is asked to complete a short questionnaire at registration. School records and informal assessments are then used to determine an English proficiency level.

All students are offered the opportunity to receive English instruction once they are identified as an ESOL student. An assessment of the student's English proficiency level is given yearly to track progress.

In Carroll County, ESOL students attend classes with other students in their grade and are immersed in the process of learning English whether they are in elementary, middle, or high school. There are some differences in the program according to grade level.

At the elementary and middle school level (grades K to 8), beginning ESOL students are usually given individualized language arts instruction by a trained teacher or language arts specialist for a period of time during the day. Students then attend classes with others at their grade level and are supported by the language arts specialist and the classroom teacher.

Because Carroll County's Integrated Language Arts (ILA) program is, by definition, designed to integrate the four areas of language skill -- listening, speaking, reading, and writing -- most intermediate and advanced ESOL students remain in their classroom for ILA while receiving support from the language arts specialist. This provides an ideal environment for language learning, while recognizing the special needs of second language learners.

At the high school level (grades 9 to 12), ESOL students enroll in a one-credit course that receives foreign language credit. These courses, ESOL I, II, III, and IV, are taught by trained ESOL teachers and are designed to meet the academic needs of secondary level English language learners.

Training is offered to teachers and language arts specialists to provide them with appropriate accommodations and strategies for ESOL students. They are encouraged to introduce students to the class and explain the student's country of origin. Teachers are also encouraged to assign a peer tutor or a buddy to help the student. The use of the student's native language is not discouraged in class -- it is never one or the other. Teachers are encouraged to label classroom objects and invite students to provide labels in their native language.

Another component teachers try to be aware of is demonstrating support for the entire family. They avoid using teachers as interpreters, use parents as cultural experts, and have correspondence translated into the native language. Teachers also try to understand cultural differences including forms of discipline, health, and the family structure and responsibilities.

Information and assistance for families and students is available by contacting Pam Mesta, the ESOL coordinator for the school system, at 410-751-3173.

C. Scott Stone

Hampstead

The writer is president of the Carroll County Board of Education.

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