English and ESL in S. St. Louis County, US
Harold F. Schiffman
haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Thu Sep 23 19:54:45 UTC 2004
>>From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
English as second language classes boom
By Carolyn Bower
Of the Post-Dispatch
Thursday, Sep. 16 2004
As students debate their favorite Yu-Gi-Oh cartoon character or the best way
to play ball, it is hard to tell that one in six students at Bierbaum
Elementary School in south St. Louis County speaks English as a second
Since the number of English language learners has quadrupled over six years,
Bierbaum, in the Mehlville district, now sends information to parents not only
in English but also in Bosnian. And school officials plan to translate parent
information this year into other languages such as Spanish.
The situation is much the same in other districts in the St. Louis region,
where the number of students who speak limited English has risen dramatically.
In a few months Hazelwood will send families information in Spanish, Arabic
and 14 other languages on issues such as testing, report cards and behavior
guidelines. Parkway serves students speaking 43 languages.
As the number of English language learners increases, so does the number of
languages spoken. Missouri students speak 98 languages. Students speak 400
languages across the nation, although the predominant language after English
"We are becoming more diverse," said Maria Hernandez Ferrier, a deputy
undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Education.
Although born in the United States, Amira Alhiyari, 14, lived in Jordan and
spoke Arabic in schools there for most of her life before returning to this
country five years ago. Now she attends 10th grade at Hazelwood West High
School, takes tests and does homework in English and plans to become a
Amira said it took several years to learn English, and she still seeks help at
the school's English language learner center.
"It was hard in the beginning, but my teachers helped me," she said. Having
more English language learners in the district makes it easier, Amira said. "I
know there are other people going through what I went through."
While the United States falls short in the number of adults able to speak
languages such as Farsi, Urdu and Kurdish and locate the countries where those
languages are spoken, (Iran and Afghanistan; Pakistan and India; Iran, Iraq,
Syria, Turkey and parts of the former Soviet Union) such expertise among
schoolchildren improves understanding of other countries and cultures,
At the same time, the demographic changes also have brought additional work
for schools seeking to meet state and federal accountability requirements for
all students. The federal No Child Left Behind law requires students who speak
limited English to take state math tests the first year they enter a U.S.
school and state reading and writing tests the next year. States have the
option of offering students the tests in their native language for up to three
years, Ferrier said.
As of last fall, Missouri reported 14,855 students learning English. The
number has grown by about 10 percent to 14 percent in each of the past few
years. The number is nearly 2 percent of the state's public school enrollment.
In Illinois nearly 129,000 of the state's 2 million public school students
speak limited English, with the highest percentage in the Chicago region.
Nationally, 5.5 million of the country's 48 million schoolchildren need help
learning English. About 80 percent of them are Spanish-speaking.
"We think of this happening in California, when the numbers are growing fast
the Midwest," said Kathie Poe, an English language teacher at Bierbaum. "This
is why we are scrambling for money and teachers. A lot of districts were not
In the Kansas City School District, enrollment of English language learners
has nearly tripled over five years to 3,102, with two-thirds of them Spanish
Enrollment grew less slowly in St. Louis city schools, to 2,768 from 2,675.
But enrollment has more than doubled in some school districts in neighboring
St. Louis County and St. Charles County.
People from other countries have moved to the St. Louis region because of
resettlement programs, affordable housing and jobs.
Ritenour Assistant Superintendent Jack Williams said that while everyone knew
schools would enroll more language minority students, "five years ago I would
not have guessed that we would have had this influx." There, the number of
students with limited English rose to 233 last year from 117 five years
In Hazelwood, the number of students who speak English as a second language
rose to 409 last year from 220 five years earlier. The number now is closer to
500, and 400 more students in the district speak English as a second language
but receive no services, said Patrick Lane, who oversees the English language
learner programs. The district has received a $450,000, three-year grant for
translation, parent involvement and teacher training programs.
Hazelwood West students Annais Padua, 15, and her brother, Robin Llanos, 16,
moved to the United States five years ago from Puerto Rico.
Robin, who plans to become an engineer, said he thinks it works best to take
classes and tests in English. His sister, who wants to work as a crime scene
investigator, would prefer to learn from teachers who speak English as well as
a student's native language.
The federal government requires schools to provide services to students with
limited English, but school districts decide how.
Some schools pull students with limited English out of class to work on their
language skills. In other schools, teachers go into regular classes to help
those students. A few schools teach students in English as well as their
Parkway pulls students out of class for English instruction and also sends
English language teachers into classes, said Laura Terrill, who oversees the
A student may become fluent enough in English after two to three years to talk
with their friends and teachers, but some may take seven to nine years to
understand the language of academics such as physics or biology, Terrill said.
Students who learn English in younger grades have an easier time than those
who start in high school.
Bierbaum has two teachers and a teaching assistant to work with students who
come to school fluent in a language other than English.
Poe has spent most of the first two weeks of school testing the English
ability of her students.
One, Bakir Vehabovic, 9, a fourth-grader, arrived in this country from Bosnia
three years ago.
Seven of the 25 students in his class know English as a second language. At
lunch, Bakir discusses Yu-Gi-Oh monsters with both Bosnian- and
While Terrill applauds the intention of the No Child Left Behind law to hold
schools accountable for students with limited English, she said it is unfair
to expect children from another country to take the same state test as their
In Mehlville, Bierbaum's principal, Steve Langhorst agrees.
"People are not all the same height," he said. "They don't all have the same
color of eyes. So why do we expect them all to learn the same thing at the
Multiple languages spoken here
In Missouri, 14,855 students are learning English as a second language.
Statewide, at least 90 different languages are spoken in the districts. Here
are some local school districts with at least 10 English as a second language
students, and the languages spoken.
Affton: Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian 96
Bayless: Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian 139, Vietnamese 26, Spanish 19
Clayton: Chinese 40, Korean 27, Japanese 12
Ferguson-Florissant: Spanish 50, Swahili 10
Fort Zumwalt: Spanish 31
Francis Howell: Spanish 71, Chinese 12, Punjabi 11
Hancock Place: Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian 66
Hazelwood: Arabic 127, Spanish 122, African tribal 14, Vietnamese
14, Yoruba 14, Chinese 12, Mandarin 11, Swahili 11, Cantonese 10,
Hollister: Spanish 29
Kirkwood: Spanish 10
Lindbergh: Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian 55
Mehlville: Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian 218, Chinese 19, Spanish 15,
Vietnamese 13, Arabic 12
Normandy: Spanish 10
Parkway: Spanish 77, Korean 75, Urdu 42, Chinese 29, Japanese 11,
Bulgarian 17, Mandarin 16, Russian 12, Arabic 12,
Pattonville: Spanish 112, Arabic 19, Chinese 12, Vietnamese 10
Ritenour: Spanish 144, Vietnamese 18, Arabic 15, Punjabi 10
Riverview Gardens: Spanish 15, Amharic 11
Rockwood: Spanish 56, Chinese 31, Russian 24, Korean 16, Urdu 16,
Vietnamese 13, Arabic 11, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian 10
St. Charles: Spanish 95
St. Louis: Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian 1,345, Spanish 414, Vietnamese
317, Farsi 162, Albanian 105, Somali 103, Arabic 82, French 49, Kurdish 49,
Laotian 23, Persian 23, Amharic 14, African tribal 13
Valley Park: Spanish 21
Wentzville: Spanish 11
Wright City: Spanish 37
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