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Rise in ESL students leads to search for teachers in PNG

Leaders in Port Neches-Groves Independent School District are looking at ways to deal with an influx of students whose native language is not English.

State law requires districts that have at least 22 students of one language other than English in one grade level to implement a bilingual program.

Mike Gonzales, assistant superintendent for administrative services, said that yes, the umbers have increased.

“When kids come to us and are new to the country and don’t speak English, we can address the needs of those students,” Gonzales said. “Now that the numbers have increased, greatly increased, we are required to at least provide those students a bilingual program and educate them properly. That doesn’t mean they will stay in the bilingual program every year. The goal is to get them out and into the regular education program, an English speaking classroom.”

This isn’t Gonzales’ first time to work on a bilingual program — he did this when he was principal at Fletcher Elementary in Beaumont, he said.

Gonzales said part of the issue of having the right teachers in place is guessing trends and the state of Texas is seeing an influx of non-English speaking persons.

Rozanne Ferguson, elementary school curriculum coordinator and district ESL coordinator, said the number of ESL students had greatly increased. In 2014-2015 there were 172 students, in 2015-2016 there were 199 and this school year there are 247. These, she said, are just the ones in the ESL services program. There are also students who have moved through the ESL program and are being monitored.

“Right now there are 19 to 20 students in the PK (prekindergarten) program that goes half a day. We have, in the classroom, a certified ESL teacher and a bilingual speaking paraprofessional,” Ferguson said. “As a district, we are meeting those students’ needs by providing these services.”

To institute the program there needs to be ESL certified teachers phased in which means starting with a PK teacher and adding a kindergarten teacher the next year, first grade the next year after that all the way to the fifth grade.

“It’s not just them learning the English language. Look at what else these children deal with. They are in another country and can’t speak the language,” she said. “There is a lot these kids have to overcome and we want to serve them the very best we can. They are a priority.”

Spanish isn’t the only language that children come to the district speaking. Ferguson ticked off a list; Malayalm, Filipino, Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Telugu, Guajarati and Sindhi.

A called meeting was held on Wednesday where board members considered approval of a one-time signing bonus for bilingual teachers. The issue was tabled until the regularly scheduled school board meeting later this month.