A plan to streamline ESL enrollment in Riverhead

01/19/2015 10:00 AM |

Students and families speaking a native language other than English may now have an easier time enrolling in school and communicating with their school district.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a plan last week for improving communication between non-native English speaking families and eligible school districts by screening students for language proficiency and providing parents with translation services, among other initiatives.

Riverhead Central School District and Greenport Union Free School District are two of six Suffolk districts working with Mr. Schneiderman’s office, as more than 12 percent of each district’s student population speaks English as a second language.

“[The goal is] to ensure that language barriers will not stand in the way of students obtaining a quality education, and that students and their families understand the services that are available to them,” Mr. Schneiderman said in a press release issued last Thursday.

The qualifying districts must now develop and implement new policies and procedures to begin the second contact is made with the district, though no additional money is being provided to the schools through the initiative.

“The new policies and procedures are designed to help students succeed in school, meet challenging state requirements for graduation, and become productive members of society,” said Riverhead Central School District Superintendent Nancy Carney, noting that additional requirements will be rolled out in September 2015.

Ms. Carney and Greenport Superintendent David Gamberg said the initiative is a continuation of the efforts the districts had already put in place.

“In large measure, what this does is codifies and formalizes what has already been going on,” Mr. Gamberg said. “[Greenport] has always been proactive about reaching out to students and their families because it is a need. This makes sure we are aware of that need of translation and that it is happening.”

Mr. Gamberg said the district employs multiple personnel capable of helping the district communicate with families on a daily basis, and is also looking over its translated documents to see if any further information needs to be made available.

“We are constantly working to improve our outreach to all district families,” Ms. Carney said. “We will be reviewing and updating the ways in which we do this as part of our compliance with the new regulations.”

She said the district is considering the creation of video orientation, which it would make available in English and a number of other languages to answer many of the questions families may have.

In September, Ms. Carney reported an influx of non-native English speaking students entering the district, and noted difficulty in finding the necessary personnel to accommodate the growing population.

An additional 91 ESL students enrolled in Riverhead schools by the start of the 2014-2015 school year — with about 60 of them registering in two weeks before school started — bringing the total number of ESL students from 781 in June 2014 to 875 by September.

Currently, about 20 percent of Riverhead’s student population speaks English as a second language, approximately 1,000 students out of a total population of 5,170, according to data provided by the district.

“We continue to receive new entrants throughout the year,” Ms. Carney said. “Some are from other states, some are new to the country, and some are from other New York State districts.”

Greenport schools has not seen an influx in enrollees, Mr. Gamberg said, noting that the ESL population “has been pretty consistent one year to the next” at about 12 percent.

The influx of ESL students is believed to include a number of “border children,” who reportedly fled their homelands in Central America to be reunited with families in the United States, according to the attorney general’s office. About 1,200 of those children came to Suffolk County, federal statistics show.

[email protected]