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Officials watch for English learners

Brent Boyer

— Steamboat Springs School District officials are keeping a close eye on the number of non-English speaking students enrolling in the district, one year after an unexpected surge took the district by surprise.

Director of Curriculum and Instruction Kelly Stanford said 30 English language learners — students whose primary language isn’t English and who would benefit from special services — have enrolled this year. Sixteen of the students are secondary students, and 14 are elementary students.

Soda Creek Elementary has 11 English language learners while Strawberry Park Elementary has three English language learners, Stanford said. Strawberry Park didn’t have any ELL students last year.

“The whole thing is still shaking out,” Stanford said, adding that the district will continue to monitor ELL enrollment before determining whether additional aides are needed.

The district has two full-time English as a Second Language aides, one at Soda Creek and one who works at the middle school and high school. The aides spent the first week assessing students to determine language comprehension levels, Stanford said.

ELL enrollment often is difficult to predict for school districts. Last year, the district experienced an unanticipated increase in the number of ELL students who enrolled. The number of ELL students who attended district schools last year exceeded three dozen at times. Only 12 ELL students attended district schools during the 2002-03 school year.

Last year, many of the students enrolled after the school year began, which eventually forced the district to hire the second full-time aide less than one month into the 2003-04 school year.

Superintendent Donna Howell said there are two educational philosophies when working with ELL populations. The first is to cluster non-English speaking children together, a strategy that can help the children feel more comfortable in school and enable them to use each other for assistance.

The second philosophy is to spread the students out within classes and grade levels, a strategy that can help motivate ELL students to acculturate with other students and not rely too heavily on other non-English speaking students.

“We’ve talked about both (philosophies),” Howell said.

The district hasn’t determined the service schedule for the ELL student population, Stanford said.


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