The Vineyard Gazette – Martha’s Vineyard News
English learners in Martha’s Vineyard public schools have nearly six-folded over the past decade and now represent over 19% of the total student body, providing a partial but striking illustration of the rapidly changing demographics across the island. .
Enrollment in regional high school is up sharply for a second consecutive year. – Ray ewing
In an interview with The Gazette this week, Leah Palmer, who coordinates ELL programs at all public schools on the island, said the numbers have changed almost daily since the start of the school year in September.
“Right now there are 427 English learners on the island,” Ms. Palmer said. Last year, 347 students in the system were learning English, she said. “To put that in context, when I started in 2011, we had 72 English learners,” she added.
Islandwide’s Fall Student Census, conducted annually on October 1, reports a total enrollment of 2,191 in public schools. But Ms Palmer said an influx of new students is underway.
“We are welcoming students every day right now,” she said. “I predict that we will probably be at an increase of 100 students in our ELL program.”
These numbers, along with the children and families they represent, make it clear that the island’s student demographics are changing rapidly, Ms. Palmer said. “Our ELL program is increasingly becoming an essential service,” she said.
Overall, enrollment is increasing only slightly at Vineyard Schools – with the exception of the Regional High School, which saw a sharp increase of 49 new students this fall after increasing by 41 students across the entire year. 2020-2021 school year.
Brooke Hardman Ditchfield with her theater students. – Ray ewing
And the numbers continue to rise, with about two-thirds of new students speaking languages other than English, said principal Sara Dingledy, who recently received school committee approval to spend up to $ 200,000. to hire a new ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher and teaching assistant.
Supporting Ms Dingledy’s request to the board, ESL teacher Jonah Kaplan-Woolner described what happened in her class, which teaches English to newcomers.
“Today … there were more children than there were presidents,” he told the school district regional committee at its Oct. 6 meeting.
“We had children sitting at the teacher’s desk. We had children standing, ”he continued. “Usually the more the merrier, but these kids are…. . real beginners. They are children [for] some of which, their English skills begin and end with “hello”. “
In addition to the new teacher approved that evening, who has already been hired, the school is looking for a Portuguese-speaking assistant for ESL staff, Ms Dingledy told the Gazette.
Brazilian Portuguese continues to be the predominant mother tongue among English learners, Ms. Palmer said, with preliminary data indicating that 344 of the 427 students learning English are Brazilian.
The second largest group among the remaining 20% are Spanish speakers, who represent 15 students in preliminary data, she said.
Chinese, Italian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Jamaican Patwa, Tibetan and Bhutanese speaking children are also enrolled, Ms. Palmer said.
While young children have the ability to learn a second and even a third language with relative ease while learning other elementary subjects, Ms Dingledy said high school students who arrive without English have a double handicap: they are beyond the natural language acquisition phase of their development, but they need English to learn something else.
“When a student is 16, 17, 18, it’s a different ball game than when he’s five, six, seven, eight,” said the principal.
To accommodate teenagers with little or no English – and in some cases with limited facilities in their native language – the high school starts them with ESL classes for newcomers, which Ms. Dingledy described as ” a landing platform for students who need English “.
Study in Anna Cotton’s earth science class. – Ray ewing
ESL classes initially focus on learning the English language in relation to the subject, gradually moving into more regular classes as students gain a master’s degree over the course of their careers. school, said the principal.
“What has changed this year is that the preponderance of them is ESL 1 [entry-level] students, which require a much larger population of ESL teachers than math or science teachers, ”said Ms. Dingledy.
“It requires a different level of support from our ESL department. “
The changing composition of the island’s student body adds to the already thorny problem of staffing district schools. With a shortage of teachers at all levels, finding ESL teachers and assistants from diverse backgrounds is a very difficult task for Vineyard Schools.
“As we see in all of education, our staff do not represent our demographics,” Ms. Palmer said. “We are really looking for ways to bring in more bilinguals [and] multicultural staff.
The district is engaged in a mentoring initiative with La Salle University for students of color interested in careers in education, Ms. Palmer said, with the goal of increasing the linguistic, cultural and ethnic diversity of school staff. .
“Brazil is so diverse,” she said. Outside of the classroom, the school district is partnering with other island organizations such as the Island Wide Youth Collaborative to welcome newcomers to the vineyard, and recently hosted a Health Access Fair that attracted approximately 20 non-English speaking families who signed up for the services. , Ms. Palmer said. “There are very good conversations going on with this,” she said. “We will continue to press for access and language opportunities.”