Candidates weigh in on language learners
Some say school district could do more to help Latino students.
By Brielle Schaeffer, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
October 24, 2012
Latino students working their way through Teton County schools pose educational challenges and opportunities, school board candidates say.
One candidate thinks the district is not doing enough for Hispanic children, which make up 25 percent of the district’s enrollment.
Another thinks the district needs to focus on language instruction for all students, not just those learning English as a second language.
The views come just two weeks before the Nov. 6 general election, when four people will be picked to serve on the board. Up until this point, candidates have weighed in on the importance of foreign language instruction for all students but not on programs that help its significant Latino population.
While English language learners — ELL — and Hispanic students have made strides in state standardized testing the past few years, they are still not performing at the level of their peers.
The Latino population was one reason the district created a dual immersion program in 2009, incumbent Kate Mead said. It also started an “Exito Para Todos,” or “Success For All,” summer program for Latino students about to enter kindergarten to give them a leg up at the beginning of the school year.
But that’s just not enough, candidate Patricia A. Russell said via email. State standardized tests scores show that Hispanic and ELL students are behind their peers, she said.
Expand summer instruction
“Every student who enters the district needing to master English should be given more intense instruction in English, not just for testing purposes ... so that they can actually get an education,” she said. “If a student cannot understand the language a class is being taught in, it would be very hard for that student to do well.”
The district needs to develop a program to provide ELL students more opportunities to master English throughout the school day, Russell said.
For the district’s programs to work better, summer instruction should be expanded for all students, Mead said.
“Language instruction, to be effective, must be consistent in time,” she said in an email. “This population ... needs to have instruction through the summer. The Spanish learners, to become fluent, also need this instruction over the summer in Spanish.
“An enhanced summer program will make this instruction available,” she said. “Plus, it will reduce day care issues for families with small children.”
Socio-economic factors come into play that the district needs to address.
“Many Spanish-speaking parents are intimidated by the schools and are afraid to make their needs known for fear of rocking the boat,” she said. “This population is most likely to drop out, so it is very important that [the district] establish or improve upon lines of communication with Latino parents.”
Incumbent and board chairwoman Robbi Farrow also thinks the best thing the district can do to help Latino kids is encouraging parent involvement.
“Parents are the ones with the most influence on their children’s lives and success,” she said.
Other candidates think community resources like the Teton Literacy Center could help with language tutoring for lagging students. Jay Varley thinks parents should use the literacy center for themselves and their students.
“I think these children would benefit a great deal by not only learning English, but also by learning to read and write Spanish and expand their vocabularies in both languages,” he said. The district’s goal should be fluency and literacy in both Spanish and English.
Candidate Syd Elliott thinks the district has been on target in recognizing language and literacy needs, but it should capitalize on the opportunities provided by having Latino students.
“The school board needs to continue to provide resources and support to these programs, as the benefits of having this population in our schools can encourage the district to build on the opportunity of broadening the cultural and linguistic educational experiences of all the students,” she said in an email.
Candidate Joe Larrow said the district should focus more on participation and inclusion of Latinos, but it should really focus on foreign language instruction for all students, he said.
“Everyone gets to be fluent in English, but right now, with the exception of the immersion program, the door only goes one way,” he said. “I believe in 15 years no fluency in Spanish will mean drastically fewer job opportunities.”
Dual immersion is key to helping Latinos, candidate Zia Yasrobi said. It should be expanded because it helps both ELL and native English speakers.
“For students who enter [school] without the ability to speak English, a critical part of that education is the development of English literacy,” he said. “Students who learn a second language at a young age are more successful throughout their education and will be more competitive in an increasingly global world.”
For more election coverage go online to JHNewsAndGuide.com/election.