Our view: Helping every student lead a productive life | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: Helping every student lead a productive life

At issue: A group of English language learner faculty and parents approached the Steamboat Springs School Board to discuss hiring additional teachers to serve the growing number of English language learners in the district. Our view: Student-to-teacher ratios matter for English language learners in our schools and ensuring they meet with success will benefit our community and society over the long term.

Steamboat Pilot & Today has been reporting for quite a few years about the school district’s ongoing efforts to assimilate non-native speakers from primary grades to the high school into its classrooms.

But we were surprised this week to learn that there are currently 278 English language learner students representing more than 8 percent of the student population currently enrolled in our schools, and they represent dozens of native countries.

A small but passionate group of ELL teachers appeared before the school board April 16 asking its members to consider increasing tentative funding levels to support additional ELL teachers in the secondary grades in the 2018-19 budget.

The proposed Newcomers program for Steamboat Springs Middle School and Steamboat Springs High School is intended to provide an extra boost to those 95 students who have the most difficulty learning to speak and understand English.

Most of us are well versed in the fact that preschoolers and students in the primary grades have an easier time acquiring a single language than do older students and adults.

Steamboat Springs School District Director of Teaching and Learning Marty Lamansky acknowledged during last week’s school board meting that it’s well established that once a student reaches the sixth grade, it becomes much more difficult for them to acquire a second language, especially while trying to study academic subjects presented in that new language.

It’s not just about learning to speak conversational English, or read fiction, but also learning to read and think in the language of mathematics and science courses. The difficulty of acquiring English can cause secondary school students to become frustrated to the point that they act out and become discipline problems.

Imagine the adults in your family accepted jobs in a foreign nation, and you relocated to Italy – a Romance language that is notoriously difficult to pick up? There’s a good chance you would seek out an English language school with conversational Italian as an elective course.

That option isn’t really viable in Steamboat Springs. Yet, we rely on households comprising English language learners to work in our resort, construction and business communities.

To be clear, Lamansky has been supportive in introducing a version of the Newcomers program at Strawberry Park Elementary School this year, with expectations of exporting it to Soda Creek Elementary School in the 2018-19 school year. He told Steamboat Today the two-year approach at the elementary schools was intentionally put in place to help the district deliberately make the best decisions about how to grow the program.

We respect the expertise and judgment of school administrators in this regard but urge them to continue to take the steps needed, including reducing student-to-teacher ratios, to ensure the English language learners in our community have the resources they need to succeed.

After all, the entire community has a very significant investment in the success of our young people. They are all “our students.”

In the meantime, people who want to help support English language learners can consider becoming involved in one of several different programs offered by the Steamboat-based nonprofit Integrated Community.

Integrated Community is seeking volunteers who can commit one hour a week to help an adult improve their English or study for the citizenship exam, and its Study Friends program pairs a high school student or adult with an elementary-aged student to help them with English and/or academics.

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