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ESL students grows in CASD to about 16 percent

September 20, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. -- The number of students for whom English is not their primary language has grown steadily in recent years in the Chambersburg Area School District, to the point where one in every six kindergarten students this year qualifies as an English language learner.

There are more than 450 students out of a population of more than 8,500 requiring some level of English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction in the district, said Sylvia Rockwood, the district's director of information services. That includes about 100 of the approximately 600 children entering kindergarten, she said.

The number of ESL students was 283 in 2003-04 and 366 in 2007-08, according to district figures. The influx of new ESL students prompted the district to add two more ESL teaching positions - one elementary and one secondary - earlier this month, bringing the number of teachers to 15, said Sarah Herbert, the district's ESL supervisor.

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There also are six secondary classroom assistants and four teachers employed by the Lincoln Intermediate Unit working in the district, Herbert said.

"I went through Chambersburg and I don't even remember an ESL class," said Herbert, who graduated in 1996.

The vast majority of ESL students speak Spanish, but there are about a dozen other languages spoken by students, including French Creole, Bosnian, German, Thai, Italian and Mandarin Chinese, Herbert said. Among those in the ESL program, the familiarity with English ranges from none whatsoever to children needing just a little help to become proficient in academic English.

Social English - what children learn outside the classroom - can be acquired within a few years, but academic English - what students use in the classroom in reading, interpreting and analyzing subject matter - can take several more years, she said.

"It varies with the kid. We've had kids who entered at level one, and by third grade were out" of ESL, Herbert said.

Those entering kindergarten are limited to about 30 minutes of ESL instruction per day, Herbert said. In later grades, it is between 45 and 90 minutes, not all of which is spent segregated in a classroom away from students proficient in English, she said.

"We're pushing ESL teachers into the classrooms for programs like guided reading," Herbert said. Those teachers work with ESL students in a regular classroom setting. When the English language learners are in class sessions of their own, the groups are kept small - about 10 students in elementary schools and 15 in secondary schools.

Keeping class sizes manageable was one reason for hiring the additional teachers, Herbert said.

To move completely out of the ESL program, Herbert said the students have to meet three criteria - a C average in their major academic courses, scoring proficient on an annual exam given to English language learners and getting at least basic scores in the state's Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests.

Almost 300 ESL students attend elementary schools, according to district figures. Stevens Elementary School has the most with 81, while the much smaller King Street Elementary School has 29.

The district's secondary schools have an ESL population of more than 160, but the numbers grow smaller as grade level gets higher. Chambersburg Area Middle School has 70 students, Faust Junior High School has 50 and Chambersburg Area Senior High School has 40, according to district figures.

Because the students come from homes where the parents do not always speak English, the district "is starting a parent outreach program ... to foster a school-parent relationship," Herbert said.

Parents Night will be Oct. 2 at 6:30 p.m. at King Street Church. Those attending will get some instruction on how to read their children's report cards, communications between the school and home, and parent-teacher conferences, Herbert said.

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