Springfield’s non-English speaking student population increased by 630 last 5 years

School district says there is a great effort happening to ensure that all students and families feel represented and supported.

The English Language Learners (ELL) population in Springfield City Schools has steadily increased over the last few years by 630 students, according to new district data.

ELL students are those whose primary language is not English, but they are working toward speaking it and eliminating any barriers to their academic success.

“One of our district’s greatest strengths is its inclusivity and diversity,” said Director of Federal Programs Pamela Shay. “Each of our students come to school with their own background, culture and perspective.”

In the 2018-19 school year, there were 297 ELL students. However, that number has steadily increased, with a big rise beginning last school year.

In the 2022-23 school year, 8.5%, or 610 students, of the district’s student population were ELL students.

In the first half of the 2023-24 school year, that number increased to 12.5%, or 927 students, of the overall population and is “only expected to climb as student enrollment mirrors population trends within Springfield,” the school reported.

“There is a great effort happening to ensure that all students and families feel represented and supported district-wide. The more we, as a district, are embracing language as a part of our daily interactions, the more culturally aware our students will be,” said communications specialist Jenna Leinasars.

Even though the ELL student population has grown, the district’s total student population has remained steady the last several years. However, the flow of grade differentiation can create situations the district “must think creatively about how to best utilize its space and staffing.” For example, in fall of 2023, there was an “explosive growth” in the kindergarten grade level of both ELL and non-ELL students, so the district made internal shifts to make sure there was proper space and teacher coverage.

The ELL students can have more than 10 languages other than English that’s spoken at home, including Spanish, French, Haitian Creole, Portuguese and Mayan.

The district works to address the languages and barriers that come with that in many ways, including basic and general communication in multiple languages, English for Speakers of Other Languages teachers, specialized textbooks and materials, bilingual assistants and professional development (PD).

To help, the district created “language cheat sheets” that include common words, phrases or pictures; about 100 flashcards of key terms in a classroom for each school building and put them up so students can see what the words are for; and have audio of common phrases so students can hear the language and learn it.

Leinasars said the language flashcards are helpful, especially for staff who are just beginning to pick up new words or phrases, and staff is using the resources to translate communications so it can be accessed by all families. She said ELL families are also interacting more at school events because they feel welcomed and comfortable.

The school has staff in the department who are fluent in other languages to help those children in the classroom. There are 13 full-time English for Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL, teachers that cover 15 schools, as well as eight bilingual assistants.

Since the fall of last year, the district has added one part-time bilingual assistant and will add a position in the future, as well as added a long-term substitute to help cover new classes that were added to meet the growing number of new enrollments at the high school. Two new ESOL classes were opened last month, and the district anticipates add a third class in March.

The staff participates in professional development, including beginning this summer on one that will focus around the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) Model, which consists of eight components including lesson preparation, building background, comprehensive input, strategies, interaction, practice/application, lesson delivery, and review and assessment.

As enrollment continues to increase, Shay said the district anticipates hiring six more ESOL teachers for the 2024-25 year to “balance the teacher load of the ESOL teachers in each building.”

“For example, some buildings are currently staffed with an ESOL teacher that works between two buildings. However, enrollment has increased to the level that would allow for a full-time ESOL teacher at each building,” she said.

Although the district continues to work to address barriers and challenges, including cultural ones, one the district has experienced is an increase of students enrolling in January and February. Shay said the U.S. is accustomed to starting school in the fall, but in several countries, it begins at the start of the calendar year. For instance, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, Brazile, and Chile all start in January or February, and Argentina begins in March.

“Some families may have arrived in Springfield in November or December, but they delayed enrollment until January because that was their usual start of the new school year,” she said. “And while it is not a new challenge, it continues to be difficult to get previous school records or medical records (such as vaccinations) from the home countries of ELLs. Some homes have been destroyed through natural disasters or war, others have fled and do not have access due to government regulations.”

The district receives funds from the state of Ohio, plus Title III grants, a key financial resources, and funds that are specifically supportive of ELL. Other funds come through state grants used to support the district’s needs. They were also one of 25 Ohio districts to receive the Reaching All Students Through Language and Literacy Grant, which is a project focused on improving literacy instruction for ELL students, and the funds are being used to extend teacher professional development and enrich first language literacy resources.

“We work together to determine how we can help solve problems and move things forward,” Shay said. “The requests to the local government to support the ELL population is the same to support all of our students and their families — bring in higher wage jobs, improve access to housing of all types (low income, rental, purchase), improve the infrastructure to support the communities, focus on reducing crime levels, and continue to support the natural environment.”

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