'WE DREAM OF A HIGHER EDUCATION FOR US AND A BETTER FUTURE FOR OUR FAMILY' Growing Number of Students Learning English Challenges Schools, Families

By Francovich, Eli | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), April 3, 2016 | Go to article overview

'WE DREAM OF A HIGHER EDUCATION FOR US AND A BETTER FUTURE FOR OUR FAMILY' Growing Number of Students Learning English Challenges Schools, Families


Francovich, Eli, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


The 20 second-graders hail from all corners of the globe. Some arrived in Spokane after fleeing violence in their native countries. Others relocated more peacefully, their families immigrating for work, school or family. The 20 students speak 11 languages and come from Russia, Vietnam, the Marshall Islands and more.

Every afternoon, they come together to dance and sing to the popular American rap song "Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)." The students have choreographed their own dance. Their teacher, Raeanne Cumbie, uses the dance interlude to blow off steam between lessons. Watching them dance, she's clearly proud of the class dynamic and their willingness to learn English.

Cumbie's Stevens Elementary classroom represents a new model for English language instruction in Spokane Public Schools. Instead of sprinkling English language learners in different classrooms, some schools are concentrating all the students in one classroom, called clustering or sheltered instruction.

Clustering helps students relax and removes some of the stigma of not speaking English fluently, said Heather Richardson, the director of Spokane Public Schools English Language Development. The approach is showing good results, with some kids who didn't speak any English advancing to grade-level standards in the same school year.

But in addition to the learning benefits, the model is a response to an increasingly stressed English language learning system, both in Spokane and statewide, with few specialized teachers and an ever- growing population of students needing help.

AN INCREASING POPULATION

The car bomb exploded minutes after their children registered for school. It shook the building, blew out windows and was the final straw for the family of seven.

Zahraa Nashawi and Hussein Alaameri's five children, ranging in age from 4 to 10, sit in a semicircle in a small north Spokane apartment. Nashawi, who's originally from Syria, and Alaameri, from Iraq, arrived in Spokane almost two years ago.

Their experience in Spokane Public Schools stands in stark contrast to their experiences in Iraq, Syria and eventually Turkey.

"We really appreciate all the teacher's help because as parents we have limited English," Nashawi said.

Families like Nashawi and Alaameri's are increasingly common in Spokane Public Schools. As of March 15 there were 69 languages spoken in the district and 1,655 English language learners. While the district has taken steps to add services for these students and their families, it is limited by a lack of state funding, Richardson said.

Currently, each English as a Second Language certified elementary teacher in Spokane serves between 60 and 70 students. ESL-certified teachers are expected to meet every day with each student in their caseload and provide them individualized support and instruction.

"The problem we're having is that when this policy was made 20 years ago you had kids who came from educated backgrounds. But now most of our kids are coming from countries that had no previous education," said Patricia Kadel, an ESL teacher at Sheridan Elementary. "The policy and the program budget really has not accommodated the way that our demographic changed."

Statewide, the effects of an increased population of people who need to learn English, without increased services, is clear. English language learners, who speak more than 200 languages, are the fastest-growing student population in Washington, but two out of three don't meet state standards in core areas, according to a report produced by the Washington State PTA organization.

That pressure will only increase, said Mark Kadel, the director of World Relief Spokane and Patricia Kadel's husband. The number of refugees the United States will accept in 2016 is increasing from 70,000 to 85,000. Spokane's yearly number likely will go from under 500 to closer to 600, he said.

More refugees are expected to come from African countries, which usually means larger families and more school-age children. …

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