English language learners in Steamboat schools speak 21 native tongues | SteamboatToday.com

English language learners in Steamboat schools speak 21 native tongues

Eighth-grade students Leo Loya, Richard Soash, Deyra Borund and Citlali Escarcega work on a project in their class at Steamboat Springs Middle School. The district was named No. 1 in the state for its work with English language learners and earned its fifth consecutive Accredited with Distinction designation in 2017.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Some of the older students in Steamboat Springs School District’s burgeoning population of English language learners will get an extra boost next year after the school board voted unanimously May 21 to add not one, but two, additional instructors to lead the Newcomers Program in the secondary grades.

The need is driven by an atypical number of newly enrolled students who speak different native languages and who are also in the U.S. for the first time.

Steamboat Superintendent Brad Meeks said the rapid growth seen in the secondary population of English-language learners took the district by surprise.

“We saw an influx of newcomers this year,” Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Brad Meeks said. “The middle school started with two, and by February, they had 14 newcomers. That wasn’t typically what we’ve experienced in our district.”

Steamboat Pilot & Today reported April 17 that 278 English-language learners, or ELL students, were served by Steamboat schools. Those students speak 21 different languages, according to the school district.

It is widely understood by educators that the youngest school students pick up a second language more easily than older children.

School district ELL specialists Tai Nass and Dani Booth explained to the school board in April that they are experiencing difficulties with some ELL students, sixth grade and older, who struggle to learn conversational English. And that’s before they tackle the specific vocabularies of science and mathematics.

English-language learners, according to Nass and Booth, were prone to becoming disaffected, even to the point of acting up in class. The Newcomers Program was conceived to get ahead of that trend.

As of April, the school district had 4.5 full-time equivalent employees in the ELL program, Steamboat Springs School Superintendent Meeks said. The district was planning to add another 1.5 FTEs to make a total of six, with one FTE targeted for the Newcomers Program. And the administration was reluctant to add the additional FTE requested by the teachers until they had a more detailed plan about how those resources were to be used.

“I just wanted to make sure we had plans before adding FTEs,” Meeks said. “That’s what they’ve been working on the last few weeks — the principals and teachers worked out the final steps.”

Now that the second ELL specialist is in the budget, Booth is excited about 2018-19 school year.

“This is an enormous step forward for our students and our community,” she said.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1.

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