Hutchinson Kansas State University is promoting a program to increase the number of elementary school teachers who have special training to teach students whose first language is not English.
Students at three community colleges will be able to get bachelor's degrees in elementary education with an emphasis on English as a second language, without having to travel to KSU in Manhattan.
Officials with Dodge City, Garden City and Seward County community colleges signed an agreement last week with K-State's Division of Continuing Education.
A similar pilot project had been conducted for two years, but the agreement makes the program permanent, said Mary Marston, program coordinator for the continuing education division.
Officials hope to create a pool of elementary school teachers with the special training so that schools in the area will not have to recruit instructors from elsewhere.
The training in ESL is particularly important in southwest Kansas, where the Hispanic and Spanish-speaking population continues to grow.
The program lets teachers learn methods for helping English-language learners keep up with their classmates, said Elva Solis, the liaison for K-State to Dodge City, Garden City and Seward County community colleges.
Shelly Schwatken, assistant superintendent of the Garden City school district, said she's "extremely excited" about the program.
Currently, about a quarter of the district's 630 teachers are ESL-endorsed. But some Garden City classrooms are nearly full of children who speak English as a second language, she said.
The first class toward a bachelor's in elementary education will occur during this summer session.
About 30 students, most of them at Dodge City Community College, have expressed interest in participating in the new program, Solis said.