Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and a local nonprofit have responded to the growth of North Carolina’s under-18 Hispanic population by expanding language programs.
Between 2000 and mid-2014, the under-18 population in North Carolina increased by more than 320,000, according to an article published by EdNC. Hispanics account for around 70 percent of that growth.
CHCCS has five dual language and immersion programs for students. These programs are designed to help students become proficient in another language in addition to English. Four of these programs focus on Spanish.
A Chapel Hill nonprofit, Immersion for Spanish Language Acquisition, has also responded to the increase in Hispanic minors with a nonprofit organization that teaches classes in Spanish to children ages 4 to 13 at St. Thomas More School. Immersion for Spanish Language Acquisition offers a three-hour class on Saturdays to promote bilingualism and to improve students’ literacy skills in Spanish.
“This year, we are working on the students being comfortable being Latino students in the public school system,” said Jenice Ramirez, executive director of the program.
Ramirez said the organization’s biggest obstacle is that they have students from different school systems, making it difficult to make connections within schools. Ramirez’s program began in 2012 with only 13 students, now the program serves 103 students from several school districts.
More than 100 dual language and immersion programs have been established throughout the school districts in the state. Eighty percent of these programs teach in Spanish.
CHCCS offered the first dual language programs in 2002. It expanded the programs during 2011-12 to provide more opportunities for both limited English proficient students and native English speakers.
“I see this as an opportunity to transition from being a monolingual state to bilingual state,” Chapel Hill Town Council member Maria Palmer said.
Palmer said she has seen the success of dual language programs in North Carolina since she established the first Spanish immersion preschool in the state.
“Children learn better from each other. If you have a classroom where most of the children speak English, they’re not going to learn target language (compared to) if half of the population speaks Spanish,” she said.
The Spanish dual language programs in the district reserve 50 percent of the seats for native Spanish speakers and 50 percent for native English. Palmer said the school district should eventually enroll all the students that apply.
“It works, it produces amazing results,” Palmer said. “It has tremendous value at it, why would we deny children this opportunity? To me, it’s like denying vaccinations or health insurance.”
School districts also rely on English as a Second Language programs to assist students who need individualized instruction to improve English proficiency.
This year, 13 percent of the English learners in North Carolina are Spanish speakers, said Ivanna Mann Thrower Anderson, an ESL consultant for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
“Although the highest percentage of students indicating a home language other than English in North Carolina’s schools are Spanish speakers, there are at least 318 diverse primary languages reported via the home language survey,” Anderson said.
Helen Atkins, ESL coordinator for the school district, said there are 1,345 limited English proficiency students in the district and 661 reported Spanish being their home language. The majority of these students receive direct services from ESL teachers.
However, not all English learners qualify for ESL. Ramirez said too often students are misplaced in ESL programs. The nonprofit organization helps parents find information about different schools and if their children might need ESL testing.
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