District language program not limited to Spanish
The coordinator of De Soto USD 232's English as a Second Language program said the program is much more than teaching English to Hispanic immigrants.
ESL coordinator Debbie Taylor said there are about 180 students who qualify for the program throughout the district. They represent 11 world languages.
Even among Hispanic ESL students, immigrants are a minority, Taylor said.
"The one thing a lot of people don't understand is that out of the majority of our (ESL) kids, only about a fourth at Starside weren't born in the U.S.," she said.
She said the majority of the students are native Spanish speakers on the west side of the district. By law, the school administrators are not allowed to ask a student's immigration status.
"We can ask for country of birth, which is public record on birth certificates, but we can't ask legal status," she said.
In the program, students are immersed in the English language until they're ready for learning in a regular, English-speaking classroom. Taylor said research indicated that took about five to seven years.
"Although federal law requires them to gain proficiency in one," Taylor said.
She said the English language learners, as they're called, were required to take the state assessment test and perform at a proficient level determined by data that includes English-native speaking students.
On the east side of the district, all ESL elementary students are bused to Riverview. Taylor said there are about 30 in the program. Mize Elementary also has its own ESL program. She said a handful of students at Monticello Trails Middle School and Mill Valley High School are non-native speakers.
The west side, Taylor said, had students from India and several Asian countries.
"We even have students who speak dialects of Punjabi," she said. "A lot of the families on the east side will bring a translator with them to a parent meeting."
De Soto High School ESL teacher Carla Phillips works primarily with students who speak Spanish as their native language. They have a buddy program in place to match students with native English-speaking students to help them assimilate.
Although it's commonly believed that younger children learn foreign languages more easily than older ones, Taylor said that wasn't necessarily true.
She said that while a kindergarten student would only have to learn a 5-year-old vocabulary, a high school student would have to catch up on complex grammar and language use.
"They have to show proficiency in the area of oral skills listening and speaking, reading and writing, based on the Kansas English language proficiency assessment," she said.
Taylor said funding for the ESL program was changing to better support schools, but that lack of funds hadn't affected the program in De Soto.
"The district has supported the program regardless," she said. "They've always given us whatever staffing and materials we've needed to serve the students. An increase in funding puts less of a burden on the district to use general funds."