Diversity tasking schools, teachers
by By DELANEY WALKER Banner Staff Writer
Dec 10, 2012 | 1820 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Murl Dirksen
Murl Dirksen
Richard Shaw
Richard Shaw
An increasingly diverse American population is trickling into the nation’s schools and creating new challenges teachers and school officials are attempting to prepare for and meet head-on.

Cleveland Board of Education members Richard Shaw and Murl Dirksen attended a leadership workshop during the recent annual Tennessee School Board Association conference. Discussion centered around what is being billed the “graying” and “browning” of America.

“... Major change is coming to America over the next 25 to 30 years,” Shaw said. “[The workshop] was just a wake-up call. We are going to have a very diverse population.

Several factors contribute to the changing demographics.

“The Anglo population is past fertility years, while immigrants coming into the country are hitting their fertility years,” Dirksen said. “The black population is at about 11.9 percent and in the next 10 years the number will increase to about 12.1.”

The Hispanic population will show a large increase of 23 percent, according to the numbers presented at the workshop.

“When we look at who will be coming into our school systems, we see it is going to be very diverse. The white majority is now below 50 percent,” Dirksen said. “The face of education is really changing. ... There are a lot of statistics about 10 years from now, but really what it is saying is we need to start preparing for these changes.”

Kellye Bender, city schools supervisor of counseling and special programs, said the schools have already seen a change in student needs.

“Our Hispanic population is huge, but we also have 16 different languages we are serving right now,” Bender said. “This includes Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Russian, and Spanish [among others].”

Each school has access to a translator. At least one faculty member at each school can speak both Spanish and English. An online service is used to translate contracts into at least six different languages.

“If a parent comes in, and they need some help in the office, then we have people who are available to help us bridge the gap,” Bender said. “We will locate a translator. Lee University has been a great source in that regard.”

A home language survey is given to each student who enrolls in the city school system. Students are asked what their predominant language is and the first language they learned. If any answer deviates from English, then a screening is completed. This screening tests the student’s English proficiency.

Four components make up the screening tests: writing, speaking, comprehension, and language. High scores place students in classes with the general population. Lower scores ensure certain students will be given specialized instruction. All screened students are referred to as having a Non-English Language Background.

English as a Second Language programs are required at all schools in Tennessee. English Language Learners, or ELL, is the term used in the city schools for the same program. Students enrolled in the program are helped by an ELL instructor who can choose to educate students through inclusion or pull-out lessons.

“Inclusion lessons find teachers going into the classroom to provide additional support for the student,” Bender said. “Anytime you pull a student away from what is going on in the classroom, they are going to miss what the teacher is saying. Inclusion allows the student to hear how the teacher is explaining the material, and have additional support if needed.”

There are currently 370 students listed as NELB in the city school system. This year’s number is a 74 NELB student increase over 2011. Records reveal a steady increase of NELB students over the last five years. In 2008, the number was 209 with Hispanic students making up 161 of the total.

Non-English Language Background student numbers have increased by roughly 133 over the past two years. Hispanic student numbers within the program increased by approximately 130 students since 2010. Needs are met through ELL services. There is one full time ELL instructor at each elementary school, one full-time and one part-time instructor at Cleveland Middle School, and two full-time instructors at Cleveland High School.

Parents have the right to waive these services for their children.

“Students are tested at the end of each year. If their scores are high enough then they are placed fully in the general population and labeled as a T1 for Transitional Year One. These students still receive support, but we are backing away from this support,” Bender said. “A test is given again at the end of the year. High enough scores move a student to T2.”

A key difference is seen between high school and elementary students participating in the ELL program.

“It is very difficult at the high school and middle school level, because at that point content is so important. Students receive that content through reading and understanding the English language,” Bender said.

A common problem is NELB students in high school can read, but they do not comprehend the material’s meaning. ELL instructors are then used as tutors to bridge the disconnect.

Elementary students have quite a different story.

“Chances are elementary students in our ELL program will be tested out by the time they hit middle school. That is why our numbers are not as high at middle school as they are in the elementary schools,” Bender said. “In the high school, the ELL population consists of transfers.”

Strives are being made to keep the program up to date and comprehensive.

“UTC is developing a program which allows teachers, who are currently teaching in a school, the change to do concentrated coursework in a very short amount of time. They are able to pick up certification to be an ESL teacher in a year,” Bender said.

Bender believes the city school system’s program is able to handle the growing NELB numbers.

“The program continues to grow, but we offer teachers additional training in strategies. A strategy that is good for English language students is good for all languages,” Bender said. “As long as we have really good, strong teaching strategies based on research, and teachers are comfortable implementing them, then we are going to see all students gain proficiency levels.”

As NELB numbers grow, so will ELL personnel. The state requires there be one ELL instructor available for every 40 NELB students. Programs are being developed and implemented to include NELB families, as well. An event was recently hosted at Mayfield Elementary to show educational resources available to parents throughout their child’s school career.

A positive response has been received from students in the program.

“... They are excited about learning the English language. Everything is new to them. Everything is exciting. They are so proud of the accomplishments they are making every single day,” Bender said.

She believes in the school system’s program.

“It does not matter where a student comes from, what language they speak or what their skin color is. At Cleveland City Schools, our job is to provide the best education we can,” Bender said. “We have a great group of committed educators who are willing to do whatever it takes to be able to help these children be successful.”