Archive for Monday, February 19, 2007

As ESL program swells, cultural balance tipping

Hillcrest parents urge district to ‘share the wealth’ of diversity

February 19, 2007


Audio Clips
ESL growth
Gyong MIn Moon, 11, gets some special attention from his teacher Karen Ward, an English Language Learner intermediate instructor at Hillcrest School. The English as a Second Language program at Hillcrest has grown from 115 to 285 students in the past six years. Hillcrest serves more than half of the Lawrence school district's ESL students.

Gyong MIn Moon, 11, gets some special attention from his teacher Karen Ward, an English Language Learner intermediate instructor at Hillcrest School. The English as a Second Language program at Hillcrest has grown from 115 to 285 students in the past six years. Hillcrest serves more than half of the Lawrence school district's ESL students.

A painting on a wall at Hillcrest School shows a student's native written language and the English translation.

A painting on a wall at Hillcrest School shows a student's native written language and the English translation.

A student corrects a writing assignment.

A student corrects a writing assignment.

One day not long ago, Ann Patterson asked her fourth-grade daughter, Anna, how her day at Hillcrest School had gone.

"She said she played jump rope with the English-speaking girls," Patterson recounted last week.

"'Why did you play with the English-speaking girls?'" she asked the girl.

The answer: "Because the line is shorter."

In fact, 285 of Hillcrest's 470 students - 60 percent - are in the English as a Second Language program, a number officials say is the result of a rise in international students at Kansas University and an influx of immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries.

It's a trend that's starting to spill over into the district's other schools. And with the the number of ESL students projected to double in the next five years across the district, Lawrence Superintendent Randy Weseman has appointed a committee to examine the program's future.

In the meantime, Patterson - the Hillcrest PTO president who has had children in the school for 10 years - finds herself seeking balance on the issue.

On one hand, she appreciates the newfound cultural diversity her daughter experiences at school, 1045 Hilltop Drive.

"It's unbelievably fabulous," Patterson said. "Potluck heaven is what it is. It's a great idea, mixing cultures and languages."

On the other hand, she said: "What's healthy about the program is that there is sort of a mix of neighborhood or English-speaking and the ESL students. That's what makes it work.

"But, we're sort of at a point where the balance is off."

The growth

Figures unveiled to Lawrence's school board last week show how quickly the number of ESL students is growing in the district.

RSP & Associates, an Overland Park demographics firm, presented the board with a report that showed there are now 561 students eligible for the ESL services this year out of about 10,300 in the district. About 90 students who would be eligible for the program do not participate at the request of their parents, said Kim Young, a district specialist for federal programs and international students.

ESL programs for the upper grades also are growing, with about 60 students receiving services at Southwest Junior High School and 40 at Lawrence High School.

RSP projected the low-end growth at 673 ESL students by the 2011-2012 school year. The midrange growth was figured at 926 students and the high-range growth was estimated at 1,178 students.

Hillcrest has taken on most of the influx. Principal Tammy Becker said there were 115 ESL students when she arrived at the school six years ago - less than half the current number.

Part of the rise is attributed to a rapid growth of students from Spanish-speaking countries, officials said. Another reason: a rise in the longstanding population of international students at KU.

Because of that second reason, brochures explaining Lawrence's program to new parents are printed in the top five languages spoken by ESL students here: Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Korean and Laotian.

"We have kids who come from over 40 countries," Becker said. "They speak over 30 languages."

Those demographics, officials say, have proven attractive to some English-speaking families.

"We receive the benefit of having that cultural diversity," said Janice Nicklaus, who oversees the ESL program for the Lawrence district. "We have families who come in and say, 'I want my child to go to that school because I want them to be exposed to those cultural differences.'"

The future

Patterson feels the same way. But she also thinks the district should find a way to lessen the burden on Hillcrest.

"It seems quite obvious that one school actually can't handle that many kids, because the ESL portion of the school completely overwhelms the neighborhood aspect of the school," she said.

Her suggestion: "Share the wealth" of ESL students with other district schools.

"It's time for a couple of other schools to be like Hillcrest and absorb some of those kids and have everybody enjoy the Hillcrest experience," Patterson said.

In fact, district officials are trying to do just that.

Part of the ESL program was expanded to Cordley School at the beginning of this school year. About 30 kindergarten students were brought in for the first year.

A boundary was set up in the district along 15th Street/Bob Billings Parkway. Students from families new to the district now attend Cordley if they live north of the boundary and outside Hillcrest's enrollment area.

New students who live south of the boundary outside Cordley's enrollment area will attend Hillcrest. Families with children already in Hillcrest will remain there.

More changes are coming.

Weseman said the new ESL committee is to come up with the best way to educate the ESL students and make staffing and facilities recommendations. The committee is looking at several issues, including which other schools might be able to handle ESL programs, he said.

The school board will receive recommendations on what to do about the program before the end of March, he said.


Ken Miller 11 years, 4 months ago

I moved into the Hillcrest-boundaried area specifically so my daughter could grow up in this diversity-rich school community. That benefit should never change about Hillcrest. But it's not just an ESL issue there - it's a total overcrowding issue. Both ESL and EFL kids are going to start suffering big time soon unless other schools can take on some of the ESL kids who live within their boundaries, or at least closer to them. I hope this new committee can work quickly and convince the school board and anyone else that needs convincing that we need to use additional funding to spread out the ESL population. Not only would that benefit Hillcrest and its teachers and staffs via smaller class sizes, but it would increase the diversity at other USD 497 elementary schools - and that is a very, very good thing.

ASBESTOS 11 years, 4 months ago

An Influx of ILLEGAL ALIENS. They are NOT immigrants. Immigrants come here LEGALLY.

jonas 11 years, 4 months ago

Making silly assumptions again, Asbestos? You have no idea who these people are. Admit your ignorance.

b_asinbeer 11 years, 4 months ago

Asbestos--you're an idiot. What a childish thing to say. Grow up, will you?

Mike Myers 11 years, 4 months ago

May be the Patterson kids should attend New York School, their neighborhood school instead of transferring to Hillcrest. Or perhaps that is not the type of diversity she welcomes.

denak 11 years, 4 months ago

Well, it is 8:40 a.m. and I am plesantly surprised to see that only one immigrant bashing idiot has posted. Thought the usual suspects would be out in full force on this issue. Probably too early.

As for the issue at hand, the article clearly stated that many of these children are the children of international students at KU. Clearly, they are here legally.

As for the Spanish-speaking population, I have a friend whose daughter was sent to ESL even though her daughter spoke English well. The district based their decision on the fact that her parents' native language and the language they spoke at home was Spanish. Both parents and both daughters speak English. I thought that was crazy.

I agree that we have to do something to alliviate the overcrowding but it also makes sense to pool resources. The district probably can't afford to have an ESL program in every school like Special Ed. So it makes sense to concentrate the need in one or two areas. I was under the impression that making Cordley an ESL school would help this problem. Guess not.

I like the fact that Hillcrest has all this diversity. I taught in a school once that was almost 100 percent white and Christian. Nothing wrong with that but the teachers were so starved for some way to teach diversity that they made a big deal of the one child that was Jewish...still white and English speaking....but Jewish.

It would be nice to share the wealth but it might just come down to what the district can and can not afford.


Kuku_Kansas 11 years, 4 months ago

Not too sure how many of these parents will be all-so-happy with the presence of ESL students in the near future.

According to the requirements of NCLB, all students--including those with special needs and/or receive ESL services, are required to take all state assessments as their peers. All students are required to score proficiency, which is determined by State education officials in late-summer, which then rises each year until 100% of students are proficient.

We know this is impossible.

Students that receive special needs, or require ESL services, are to receive specialized instruction at that current time of their respective educational careers.

But to have to demonstrate proficiency on grade-level benchmarks and standards, while they are eligible and need to receive their special education and/or ESL services, is just wrong.

Hillcrest and others schools will continue to not demonstrate proficiency, resulting in not making AYP.

The school(s) will be on improvement and those students will have the right to transfer to a "more successful" school after two years.

Sadly, when the state reports to the media why a school doesn't make AYP (annual yearly progress), it is then solely determined what subgroup--special needs, ESL, free-reduced lunch etc.

It's a double-edged sword that No Child Left Behind.

Christine Hammon 11 years, 4 months ago

My oldest son attended Hillcrest while I was in family housing at KU. He had a Russian best friend and a Chinese best friend. I wouldn't trade his experiences and the teachers were great, but that was almost ten years ago.

My youngest son attended Sunset Hill, while it is not as culturally diverse, Mr. Bay is one of the greatest principals I have ever dealt with. They still remain open to change and adapting policies to new situations.

I worked at New York Elementary as a para. I had teachers from Hillcrest give me the brushoff and dirty looks, these were the same teachers my son had, found out I worked for NY. Very few people have faith in NY School. I know great parents who are dedicated to having their children attend that school. I also know alot of parents in the Lawrence School district that wouldn't let their kids attend, like Ms. Patterson(if it's true they live within the NY boundaries). This is part of problem with the past boundaries and policies concerning the individuall school boundaries. Because of parents who wanted their kids to go to Hillcrest(or another school), when they should have been attending New York.

I have an idea. Since New York has such a small number of kids, why not put an ESL there? Cordley, another great school, already has the autism program. To quote Ms. Patterson, "why not share the wealth?" And then she wouldn't have to transfer her kids and drive them to and from school everyday. Again, it seems as if only the families who have the money seem to have the opportunity for a "better" education, the rest of Lawrence seems to have to live with the options given to them. I loved my time spent at New York, and even tried to get my son transfered to NY so I wouldn't have to make stops at two different schools everyday, but the district wouldn't allow transfers after the deadline(which was in the middle of the schoolyear prior to the transfer).

I heart NY elementary, and Sunset Hill.

shirinisb 11 years, 4 months ago

This program is the reason my daughter is in private school. Because a second language is spoken in our home, despite the fact that english is her first language, she was forced to go through a battery of tests by a very very vicious woman at the school district. After about 15 minutes we realized that Lawrence public schools where not for us. I know the law is federal but the way that it was used to descriminate against our family is sick. Until the woman who spoke with my daughter without me present she would not pass my daughter, no matter how good her english was. Oh yeah my husband is a citizen of one of the "axis of evil" countries. I wonder if that had ANYTHING to do with this woman's horrible attitude toward a 5 year old scared little girl.

jchristine 11 years, 4 months ago

Our son was adopted from Bombay, India. His first languages are Hindi & Marathi, but has learned so much English at his new school. Our son attends the ESL program at Hillcrest and we've been very pleased with his experiences, and teachers. He is NOT an illegal immigrant (whoever said that must have a major screw loose- to even enroll you have to provide a birth certificate and citizenship info!)

I'm sorry to hear Shirinsb's daughter had so much trouble getting tested with the district. I agree that the testing process was not sufficient. Our son was tested by an Asian woman who could not speak English well, so he couldn't even understand her during testing (THIS IS STRANGE!) I feel that whoever is testing the children should speak clear and fluent English or the children cannot be accurately tested. Has anyone else noticed this problemo??

preebo 11 years, 4 months ago

Why do you fear diversity? I can understand the aversion to illegal immigration, but why not have people learn english? Wasn't that the whole rationale for making English the "Official State Language?" How can you be for official English, but against ESL? The latter would almost completely depend on the former. Furthermore, to say illegal immigration has directly caused ESL is foolhearted and overgeneralizing.

Food for thought: Try thinking forward rather than backwards. And just because you look backwards, that doesn't mean you are now forward thinkers.

"Keep your eyes open, but your mind open wider." - Unknown

lwright 11 years, 4 months ago

For those interested in helping the English language learners (and/or Spanish-speaking students and parents) succeed, I would like to suggest a free Web site from PBS station WETA (DC) supported by the American Federation of Teachers, plus additional funding from the National Institute for Family Literacy (NIFL) and the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.

A FREE bilingual (English/Spanish) Web site, it provides research-based resources (including free professional development webcasts, e-newsletters, podcasts, lesson plans, reading activities, bilingual booklists, among other resources).

Hope you find it useful!

Commenting has been disabled for this item.