English learner program on the march in Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com

English learner program on the march in Steamboat

Steamboat Springs School District employees, parents and students in the English language learners program walk together along Pine Street April 16 on their way to the Steamboat Springs School Board meeting to make the case for hiring more teachers in the program, which now serves 278 students.
Tom Ross

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – A delegation from the Steamboat Springs School District’s English language learner community paid an unexpected call on the board of education Monday night and left a passionate impression.

Their purpose was to ask the board to go beyond its tentative plans to increase the number of English language learner specialists in the school district by 1.5 full-time equivalents from the current 4.5.

“I was exhilarated by the English language learner meeting,” board member Mayling Simpson told her colleagues at the end of the night. “I think it was a very important meeting. I can see that (the program) is growing, and it may continue to grow.”

Former English learner student Aracely Torres Hernandez, who graduated in December 2017, told board members she was continuing to work on improving her English skills.

“I want to get a better job, so I can make more money and (someday) return to Mexico,” Torres Hernandez said.

A small gathering of perhaps a dozen district employees, their students and some parents set out late Monday afternoon from Steamboat Springs High School to walk down Pine Street to the board meeting on Seventh Street. By the time they squeezed into the public hearing room, their numbers had grown to about 30, and they stood patiently until it was time for public comment.

Steamboat Springs High School English language specialist Dani Booth told the board members that the teacher-to-student ratio is widening.

“There are currently 4.5 staff members dedicated to English learners at our district serving 277 students — actually, as of last week, we now have 278 students,” Booth said. “When I became the EL specialist at the high school six years ago, there were 14 students that had an intermediate level of English. I mainly supported (them) in their content classes.”

Since then, the number of students she serves at the high school has grown to 41.

The program is bolstered by a translator, B Torres, who carries out the role of connecting the students’ families to the school district.

Middle school English language learner specialist Tai Nass reminded the board that the school district strives to maintain student-to-teacher ratios of 25-to-one in the secondary schools. At the middle school, she said works with 54 students, and the ratio at the high school is 40-to-one.

Because it’s more difficult for secondary students to pick up a second language than it is for early elementary school students, the district is hoping to start a “newcomers program” for older students. The intent is to circumvent the frustration that students in sixth grade and up often experience in trying to become fluent in English, which can derail their progress.

Nass and Booth feel an urgent need for more teaching staff to carry out the program while the school administration favors more measured staff growth.

Nass described the range of needs the students have as “staggering” and added the stress of trying to become fluent in a second language amidst all of the cultural changes can lead to increased stress levels, “that make learning impossible.”

“The district has heard some of this information and, from my understanding, is considering adding 1.5 full-time employees to the EL team. However, I truly hope they understand that 1.5 FTEs will not adequately address even our current numbers,” Booth said. “Two FTEs at the secondary level will allow us to meet the unique needs of this underserved population.”

School District Director of Teaching and Learning Marty Lamansky pointed out the addition of a 1.5 full-time equivalent employees would raise the licensed teaching staff in English language learning to six, and when the interpreter is considered, the number is seven. Adding another teacher would make it eight, he said.

Lamansky’s advice to the school board was to proceed with a two-year process as it did with the similar bi-literacy program piloted this school year at Strawberry Park Elementary School.

That approach allows for making adjustments before fully implementing the program, he said.

As of Oct. 1, 2017, when the English language learner population in the Steamboat Springs Schools stood at 220 students, they represented 8.2 percent of the school population, according to Lamansky.

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

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