Schools reach out to immigrants

Middle schools combine programs to help students, families over language barrier

February 04, 2007|By SUSAN GVOZDAS | SUSAN GVOZDAS,Special to The Sun

Two pairs of Anne Arundel County middle schools are planning to combine classes for students learning English to meet the needs of a growing population of immigrants.

In what school officials are calling the county's first "clusters" for students in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program, Marley Middle students in Glen Burnie could be bused across town to Corkran Middle as early as this fall to take the classes together. Fort Meade's MacArthur Middle School would take in students from nearby Meade Middle School.

The clusters would provide relief for ESOL teachers who have to hop between schools. "It also means better service for kids," said Cathy Nelson, the county's ESOL coordinator.

The ESOL program is for students who speak all languages, but Spanish-speakers dominate the county's program. Anne Arundel County's Hispanic population nearly doubled from 1990 to 2000, to 12,902.

More than two-thirds of the 1,517 ESOL students are Spanish-speakers. The second-largest portion - about 5 percent - speak Korean, and the rest speak a mixture of Asian and Middle Eastern languages.

There are three ESOL students at Marley this year, but the school will get four more, who will start sixth grade this fall. Corkran has 17 students and should get three more students in the fall.

Meade would send at least 15 students to join another 15 at MacArthur.

The proposal also calls for making Corkran's ESOL teacher full time, freeing up the part-time ESOL teacher at Marley to work at elementary schools. The ESOL students would have more extensive supervision.

Corkran's ESOL teacher, Joe Stone, who now splits his teaching time with Richard Henry Lee Elementary School, said he could use his extra time to create beginner, intermediate and advanced levels to challenge the ESOL students at Corkran.

The $40,000 proposal is in Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell's budget for the next school year.

The MacArthur program is contingent on the funding of the new Middle Years-International Baccalaureate program, Nelson said. Meade ESOL students would share a bus with IB students.

Reaching out to parents is important to the success of ESOL students. Like other county schools, Corkran decided to start a Hispanic outreach program this year to make parents feel more at home in contacting school officials and staying abreast of school events.

On Tuesday night, Corkran officials invited the families of children at Corkran, Marley and their elementary feeder schools to a dinnertime workshop. They traded contact information and other materials in Spanish over slices of pizza and bowls of ice cream.

Providing more one-on-one time can improve the chances of students who are trying to assimilate to a new language. Although many of the children at the workshop Tuesday night spoke English well, their reading and writing skills often lag much further behind, Stone said.

"It takes between five and seven years before you have the same level of academic English," he said.

Walter Contreras is one of those students at Corkran. On Tuesday night, the sixth-grader translated easily for his parents, who emigrated from Guatemala two years ago. He acknowledged that he could understand less than half of what he hears.

"It is hard for me to write the English," Walter said.

Some students, such as Ronald Maldonado, 12, move through the ESOL program very quickly, Stone said. His mother, Mirna Sandoval, moved her family from El Salvador to Glen Burnie in 2003. She can understand English, but it is a struggle. The most difficult part is trying to keep after Ronald and his 9-year-old sister, Monica, to do their homework and make sure they do not miss school events.

"I need to know when something is for my son and daughter," Sandoval said at the workshop. "I did not know until tonight [that] they had a woman at the school who speaks Spanish."

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