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CK district adjusts programs for non-native English speakers

Central Kitsap School District is making some changes to its program for students who don’t speak English as a first language.

Chris Wyatt, director of student services, said about 220 English Language Learner students, mostly Filipino and Hispanic, are enrolled in kindergarten through twelfth grades. It’s a small population, she said, but they need extra help to navigate the American education system.

This year, the district is working on improving services for those learners, Wyatt said.

In the last few years, the district has seen a shift from elementary-aged English learners to a bigger concentration in the high schools.

“When I say more, I mean maybe three students at one school,” Wyatt said. “But each student has a high impact on the classroom.”

Wyatt said it’s tougher for the district because teenagers don’t always learn a language as quickly as elementary students.

“There’s hard conversations for kids who can’t graduate on time,” she said. “We’re trying to have kids forewarned,”

Wyatt said the Central Kitsap and Olympic high schools recently assigned classrooms specifically for English language instruction, and placed a staff member in every middle- and high-school building to help oversee the programs for English learners, Wyatt said.

“We’re also working on stronger communication, going into next year, with teachers,” Wyatt said.

Sarah Nolan, the K-12 English language development coordinator, said 33 different languages are spoken throughout the district.

Nolan helps train teachers on strategies to teach their English learner students, like making sure not to use slang.

Depending on the student, Nolan said lessons might have to be built from the ground up. A lesson on Thanksgiving, for instance, might need to start with the definition of a pilgrim.

“We want to make sure they have enough English language so when they graduate they can expect services they need, know how to apply for jobs, all those skills it takes to live in a society,” Nolan said.

Central Kitsap High School history teacher J.D. Sweet said he sees flaws with the school’s system for English learners. In the high school, English learner students spend one period out of their day working on English with a para-educator.

“My frustration is they’re coming up with accommodations and strategies that aren’t realistic,” Sweet said.

Sweet said the school’s para-educator moves between other buildings, and right now teachers don’t get chances to coordinate with her.

One problem Sweet sees is on days when the para-educator is out sick, the English learner students are sent to study in the library without any instruction.

Above all, Sweet would like to see the system set up so teachers can communicate with the para-educator working with the English learners. He said he’s not sure what the best solution is, but he would like the district to find better options and communicate more.

Sweet is trained in methods of helping English learner students understand lessons with graphic organizers, but said it’s not helpful if a student doesn’t read very well or understand American-style studying and classrooms.

Cultural barriers are also tough, Sweet said.

“If I’m talking about the Fourth of July, American kids understand what that means, baseball, apple pie, barbecues,” Sweet said. “Someone coming from another country is not going to get that.”

 

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