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More students face language barrier

January 03, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Cambodian, Hindi, Russian and Mandarin are just a few of a growing number of foreign languages now being heard in the hallways of Berkeley County's public schools.

Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Manny P. Arvon said last week that a total of 26 languages are spoken at Martinsburg High School.

"It is a challenge," Arvon said of teaching students English as a second language with limited federal money and no state funding. "Everybody's doing the best they can with what they have available."

What the school system has available this year from the Title III federal grant program for Limited English Proficient and Immigrant (LEP) students -- $77,800 -- isn't enough to prevent school staff from having to wear multiple hats and travel between campuses to respond to the increasing demands, school officials said.

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The number of students who need after-school tutoring and specialized learning materials to help them break through the language barrier has increased with the Eastern Panhandle's overall enrollment growth, according to school composition reports posted at www.http://wveis.k12.wv.us the Web site of the West Virginia Education Information System (WVEIS).

There were 410 LEP students enrolled in Berkeley County Schools in the 2007-08 school year, up from 145 in 2002-03, according to second-month enrollment figures compiled by WVEIS. In Jefferson County, school officials reported an increase of more than 200 students, with 346 enrolled last year.

While LEP enrollments appear to have declined last fall in Berkeley and Jefferson counties, both consistently have ranked among the top five in the state for English-limited students, and nearly a third of the state total (2,359) last year were enrolled in the Eastern Panhandle, according to a review of the WVEIS composition reports.

Morgan County only reported 17 LEP students for the 2007-08 school year, but Amelia Courts, executive director of International Schools and English as a Second Language for the West Virginia Department of Education, said small school districts have their own set of challenges.

School districts with relatively low LEP student enrollments typically do not have discretionary funding, such local school levy money available or trained personnel on staff such as large school districts, Courts said.

"I do believe it's a challenge no matter where you are in the state," Courts said.

Courts said a Marshall University study recently found that West Virginia was one of only seven states that provided no funding to school districts for LEP students, and she now believes that number is shrinking because of legal concerns.

Del. Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, said last month that he planned to push for legislation in the upcoming regular session of the Legislature that would establish at least some amount of state funding for LEP students.

Draft legislation presented to Duke and other lawmakers last summer in an interim committee meeting proposed matching the federal Title III grant award per student ($267) with $274 in state money, according to the West Virginia Legislature's Office of Reference & Information.

Courts confirmed last week that she told lawmakers last summer that the average statewide cost of essential programs and educational needs per LEP student would be $2,000.

Courts said Cabell County, for example, now was spending about $4,000 per student. It wasn't immediately clear how much Berkeley County was spending in addition to the federal grant money they have received.

Courts, who is expected to give a presentation about LEP and English as a Second Language programs to the state board of education this month, said federal officials recently have indicated the Title III money only is supposed to supplement, not supplant, funding dedicated for school programs and not be used for teacher salaries.

A Berkeley County Schools official said last week that 20 teachers were involved in the school district's LEP program, which Arvon said doesn't count students for the Title III grant funding program after they become English-proficient.

"And I don't know if that's the case everywhere," Arvon said.

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