By Dedra Cordle
South-Western City School officials are predicting steady growth in the enrollment numbers of students classified as English Learners.
At the April 22 board of education meeting, program coordinator Ed Kennedy said data indicates there could be as many as 3,325 EL students enrolled in the district for the 2019/20 school year, which is an increase of 21 students from the current school year. He added that while growth is projected in all buildings, one area that will continue to see added growth throughout the years is the “Franklin Heights corridor.”
“We are seeing many families move into the areas whose schools will feed into Franklin Heights High School,” he said, referring to East Franklin, Finland, Harmon and West Franklin Elementary, as well as Franklin Woods Intermediate and Finland Middle.
He said the demographic that will grow throughout that area is the Latino population.
“For many years, we saw a lot of growth with our Somali and Arabic speaking families in that corridor but now we are projecting an increase of our Latino families.”
Kennedy said those projections do not come as a surprise to the district, nor are they unprepared for the influx on a staffing level.
“Spanish is our number one language with EL students, with Somali and Arabic following,” Kennedy said. His data indicates 71 percent of EL students speak Spanish as their primary language, followed by 20 percent for Somali and Arabic speakers.
He also reported that when students enroll in the program, a majority are doing so when they are at the pre-functional or basic level of learning the English language.
“Of that group, a majority are at the younger levels, such as the elementary or intermediate age,” he said.
Kennedy said it takes one to two years for students to have a proficient grasp on conversational skills, while it takes five to seven years to become proficient with their reading and writing skills.
He said when it comes to older students who enroll and are testing at the pre-functional or basic level it is “all hands on deck” to get them to graduate on time.
One step the district is taking to lessen the language gap is through a Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy grant. According to Kennedy, the district was recently awarded a $200,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Education that, in part, allowed officials to purchase books for the middle to high school grades.
“We have found that pleasure reading helps advance their understanding of the English language,” said Kennedy.
He said a favored genre of students is the graphic novel.
“Graphic novels are popular because they are able to show you the action while telling you what is happening,” he said.
The grant was implemented this year, and Kennedy said it is already paying dividends.
“We have seen a 0.5 to a 0.8 percent increase in grade level growth after just the first semester,” he said.
Another positive thing about the grant, he added, is that most of the reading materials can be accessed online so there are no waiting periods for the return of popular materials.
“We think this will be a great tool for our students,” he said.
In other news, Amy Schakat, the coordinator of Career-Technical Education, said the middle grades will be introduced to four new courses next year. They include an introduction to financial literacy, entrepreneurship, app development and strength and fitness. And at the high school level, Westland will add a Bilingual Customer Service Certificate.