Schools change ESOL program

New `academies' to bring students together to learn

High schools affected

Full-time teachers slated for classes at three sites

Anne Arundel

August 19, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Starting this fall, Anne Arundel County students who previously took classes for non-native English speakers at their local high schools will attend one of three "international academies" - an effort by the school system to offer what it views as more efficient, specialized instruction.

Students will travel from bus stops in their communities to Annapolis, Glen Burnie or Old Mill high schools and work on their English skills with full-time teachers based at those schools.

"The move allows us to bring the students to the service," said schools Superintendent Eric J. Smith.

For five years, Anne Arundel school officials have considered a regional approach for the estimated 1,400 children enrolled in English for Speakers of Other Languages programs. In all, the kindergarten through 12th-grade students and their parents speak about 50 languages - predominantly Spanish and Korean - and have varying levels of previous education.

"One of the challenges the district has is to try to always maximize the quality of service provided as the population increases," Smith said.

Many districts in Maryland concentrate such programs. For example, 18 of Montgomery County's 25 high schools have ESOL services, busing in students from the other schools, said Karen C. Woodson, director of ESOL and bilingual programs.

"When it's too small, you can't offer a full program," she said.

But organizing transportation for Anne Arundel's relatively small population scattered among 120 schools was not cost-effective. Now, two sites - Annapolis and Old Mill - will receive the county's growing number of ESOL students through bus routes set up for International Baccalaureate students.

"Really, at this point in time we have enough students in our high schools to make it a viable option," said Patricia H. Orndorff, who coordinates the ESOL program.

Each school will offer classes for different levels of English ability, said Orndorff. In addition, ESOL teachers will be able to work more closely with their students' teachers of subjects such as science and history.

"The teachers will really be able to focus on the language skill and really push the kids and challenge them more," she said.

The academy sites already have the largest ESOL populations. Annapolis High School expects about 100 students, 20 of whom will come from four southern high schools. Old Mill will bus in about half of its 43 expected students, also from four schools. About 11 of Glen Burnie's 26 ESOL students will take buses from North County.

Multiple ESOL teachers will staff the schools, Orndorff said. By contrast, last year most ESOL teachers were itinerant - roving among three to five schools. As a result, they usually could teach only one period a day before leaving for another location.

ESOL students are integrated with native English speakers for subjects such as science, art, music or history. Under the new system, ESOL teachers will be better able to support classroom teachers - preparing them to respond to students' cultural or vocabulary challenges, Orndorff said.

Annapolis also will offer classes to boost the reading skills of "interrupted education" students - those whose school careers have been spotty due to frequent moves or turmoil in home countries, Orndorff said.

Students entering their senior year can choose whether to enroll at their home school or the ESOL academy. "We expect they're going to want to stay" at their home school, Orndorff said.

To accommodate them, this year an ESOL teacher at an academy will meet with seniors at their home schools periodically but not daily. "We hope this is the only year we'll have to do that," Orndorff added.

When students develop enough skill to leave the program, they will have the option to stay at the school with the academy or to go to their local high school, Orndorff said.

Parents and students learned about the program changes last spring during classes and at meetings held at branch libraries. Some expressed concerns, particularly about transportation. However, Orndorff said, volunteer bilingual liaisons at the meetings usually were able to reassure them.

Smith said school officials will evaluate the program's results to determine whether it should be expanded to other grade levels. He agreed with Orndorff that consolidating ESOL classes creates a healthy environment where kids can meet others in a similar situation.

"These kids feel so isolated, all alone," Orndorff said.

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