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Number of Webster immigrant students growing

by Minden Press-Herald

Carmen walks into her third grade classroom at a local elementary school on her first day.

Students are abuzz as they find their respective seats and prepare for the day’s lessons. The teacher begins by instructing students to get out their workbooks and pencils for the reading lesson that morning. Little Carmen is nervous about starting a new school, so she sits quietly at one of the few empty desks available.

Carmen has moved to a new city, a new state, a new country altogether. Carmen cannot speak English and as her new classmates do as instructed, she cannot understand what they are saying – let alone what her teacher is asking her to do.

Luckily for students like Carmen, school districts provide teachers who can teach them English as a second language. Webster Parish is one such school district.

Priscilla Stahl, retired from Webster Parish schools, taught English as a second language for 12 years until her second and final retirement three years ago.

“It’s difficult to learn another language,” she said. “It’s very, very difficult, (but) by the time they get to fourth grade, they’re pretty much bilingual. Children are just so eager to learn. I did as little translation as I could get away with. I taught them just enough vocabulary that they would know what I was talking about, and converted it to reading as well.”

Even though she worked with several children in the elementary schools, many of her students came to her during pre-kindergarten.

“What I would do is take the kids and teach them vocabulary using picture cards, along with words,” she explained. “I would teach them the picture cards and they would go back to their classrooms and be immersed into English for the rest of the day – which really and truly is a better way of teaching them than trying to do bilingual education.”

Rep. Gene Reynolds, District 10, recently spoke at a conference at Tulane University in New Orleans for the nonprofit Louisiana Affiliate of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (LaTESOL). He said while the number of immigrant students in Webster Parish is few, that number is growing. Statewide, the number of students who do not speak English ranges from 11,000 to 12,000.

An immigrant student is one who is between the ages of 3 and 21, were not born in the United States or Puerto Rico and have been enrolled in U.S. schools for less than three academic years, according to Title III, section 3301(6) from the U.S. Department of Education.

“It’s never been an issue here, but as time goes on, it’s an issue we’re going to have to address,” he said.

The vast majority of these English as a Second Language programs are in south Louisiana, concentrated in New Orleans.

“There’s a lot of construction down there,” he said, “and many of these workers are Spanish-speaking workers. We do have some families that have moved here, and we have to address that.”

Webster Parish provides a stipend for a teacher to come in and teach these students. Crevonne Odom, business director for Webster Parish schools, says these teachers are not considered a full-time teacher and are not paid as a teacher. They only come in on an as needed basis. However, the teacher they have is paid through the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP), the state funding that pays teachers’ salaries and benefits. The MFP is based on a per pupil basis and every student is counted.

Webster Parish schools, like all school systems in the state, has a policy regarding “Language Instruction for Limited English Proficient and Immigrant Students.” Based on federal and state statutes, the policy provides the program so they “are able to use English in a manner that allows effective, relevant participation in regular classroom instruction,” the policy reads.

The program is not tied to the Common Core State Standards, Reynolds said. It is strictly about teaching the child the English language.

LaTESOL, according to is a nonprofit organization that promotes and strengthens educators who teach English as a second language. It also allows these instructors to network statewide and nationally to share information and promote professional development, according to the organization’s website www.latesol.org.

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