The number of English Language Learners (ELL), or students who are learning how to understand English, is consistently on the rise in the Riverhead School District, nearly doubling over the past three years.
According to Elizabeth Scaduto, the district’s director of English as a New Language (ENL), bilingual programs and world languages, there were 684 ENL students enrolled in Riverhead in February 2013. That number climbed to about 1,200 in the 2015-16 school year. ENL, formally known as English as a Second Language (ESL), is the name of the course the ELL students take.
She said during a presentation at Tuesday’s school board meeting that the department doesn’t expect the upward trent to slow down. She predicted as many as 1,400 ENL students will be enrolled in Riverhead next school year.
The district had an additional 184 Limited English Proficient (LEP) students enroll this school year, bringing the total number to 1,160 for the year or 22 percent of the district’s 5,300 population, Superintendent Nancy Carney said in March.
The 2016-17 budget includes hiring six additional ENL teachers, along with two bilingual elementary teachers, bringing the total number of ENL teachers to 27.
“ENL is taught in English so ENL teachers are trained in terms of how to help kids use language they don’t speak access the language and develop a common language,” Ms. Scaduto said.
Other ways to adapt to the increase in enrollment include unveiling a set of eight new “blueprint principles” for ELL as part of a change in regulations issued by Department of Education commissioner MaryEllen Elia, Ms. Scaduto said.
Services for bilingual education need to be updated if a district has a minimum of 20 ELL students in a grade level with the same home language, according to the guidelines, and is expected to continue annually as long as 15 students are eligible to continue the program.
The first principle is having all educators, no matter the age or subject they teach, understand that they are teachers of ELL and adapt to the fact that there are going to be students in their classes whose first language isn’t English. Ms. Scaduto said over 50 percent of teachers are dual-certified, with others looking into it.
“[The second most spoken language] switches year to year between Polish and Urdu, usually by one percent,” Ms. Scaduto said. “Our bilingual programs, that ones that we are required by regulation to have, are all Spanish-English bilingual programs … about 94 to 96 percent of our ELL population and their families are Spanish speaking.”
Other changes include offering a bilingual diploma to students at graduation, which will begin next year, and increasing parent/family orientations. Additionally, the district sends home letters in a language that the parents understand, which often means information has to be translated into numerous languages.
Photo Caption: Elizabeth Scaduto, Director of ENL, giving a presentation during Tuesday night’s school board meeting. (Credit: Nicole Smith)