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Salem School Committee considers intiatives to help non-English speaking students

Posted by Ryan Mooney  June 6, 2012 12:06 PM

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The Salem School Committee is working on initiatives to further help students who do not speak English as a first language as the district's non-English-speaking student demographic continues to grow each year.

The Massachusetts Department of Education requires all public schools to offer services to students who do not speak English as a first language, and new legislation will require that all core academic educators receive training in English immersion.

Salem put into place the Newcomers Program this year, which is an initiative aimed at helping students new to the district assimilate into English culture and language. In addition, the school system has a number of pull-out programs, in which individuals or small groups of students are removed from regular classes to receive assistance before transitioning into full English programs.

But according to Superintendent Stephen Russell, Salem schools have still had trouble keeping up with current requirements surrounding English Language Learning (ELL).

"This is a need that's increasing more quickly than the resources we have to meet it," Russell said.

The FY2013 school budget will include the addition of four ELL teachers to try help the district meet state requirements.

At its meeting on Monday night, the school committee listened to a presentation by Jaana Thoransen, director of ELL programs in Salem, and Nancy Meacham, the district's ELL coordinator. The presentation outlined ways that the district can move toward more programs that involve having ELL teachers in regular classes, rather than isolating students who need assistance.

"What we're doing next year is we're going to try to move much more toward working with these students within the context of a regular classroom, having our staff work right in there in many cases, and then moving from there," Russell said.

Salem currently has 559 students enrolled in ELL programs throughout the district, up from 386 just five years ago, with Spanish being the most widely spoken first-language by far.

"One day a child may be on a bench in the Dominican Republic, in the next day or two they're sitting in one of our classrooms," Russell said. "So we're developing programs that will help that child transition from their own culture and language to English."

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