Fort Worth dis­trict phas­ing out el­e­men­tary school lan­guage cen­ters

Star-Telegram - - Front Page - BY DIANE SMITH di­ane­[email protected]­gram.com

Some el­e­men­tary-school English learn­ers will not be taught at lan­guage cen­ters next school year, un­der a Fort Worth school plan that re­vamps how the pro­gram is de­liv­ered as less refugee chil­dren ar­rive to build new lives in Tar­rant County af­ter flee­ing war, re­li­gious in­tol­er­ance or per­se­cu­tion in their na­tive coun­tries.

The Fort Worth school dis­trict has long taught refugee stu­dents who come to Tar­rant County af­ter flee­ing per­se­cu­tion in their home­lands. Through the years, stu­dents have ar­rived from coun­tries such as Viet­nam, Bos­nia, So­ma­lia, Su­dan and Syria.

As the dis­trict stream­lines ser­vices to stretch money with an eye on next year’s bud­get, it is re­tool­ing how it of­fers some ser­vices to English learn­ers — specif­i­cally stu­dents who ar­rive in the United States from nonS­pan­ish speak­ing coun­tries.

For about 25 years, the dis­trict has de­liv­ered English as a Sec­ond Lan­guage ser­vices through a lan­guage cen­ter for­mat that takes stu­dents to cen­tral sites, but now the dis­trict plans to phase out the cen­ters. One rea­son is re­cent refugee re­set­tle­ment trends.

“It’s the refugee pop­u­la­tion and the refugee pop­u­la­tion has dwin­dled re­cently,” said Karen Neal, in­terim di­rec­tor for ESL in the Fort Worth school dis­trict.

There are seven lan­guage

cen­ters for el­e­men­tary stu­dents that serve refugees and new­com­ers in the third through fifth grades. Plans are un­der way to phase out th­ese lan­guage cen­ters by the start of the next school year — a process that in­cludes re­as­sign­ing 13 full-time teach­ers.

English as a Sec­ond Lan­guage ed­u­ca­tors will sup­port cam­puses with large con­cen­tra­tions of English learn­ers, ac­cord­ing to the dis­trict.

In early April, 161 el­e­men­tary stu­dents were be­ing served at lan­guage cen­ters, but the num­ber is ex­pected to drop to 53 next school year.

Plans are also un­der way to phase out lan­guage cen­ters at mid­dle schools by the 2020-21 school year. The mid­dle school lan­guage cen­ters serve stu­dents in sixth, sev­enth and eighth grades. In April, the dis­trict had 298 stu­dents in the mid­dle school pro­gram. Next year, 25 teach­ers are pro­jected to serve 84 stu­dents at seven sites.

“Th­ese num­bers roll up hill,” Neal said. “Be­cause my num­bers are dwin­dling at el­e­men­tary, there aren’t chil­dren to feed into mid­dle school lan­guage cen­ters. That also im­pacts my mid­dle schools. If we serve third, fourth and fifth, if they come in as fifth-graders, they still have time in the sys­tem — we just aren’t get­ting that many kids any­more.”

The dis­trict stressed no ed­u­ca­tors will lose their job un­der the plan.

“Th­ese peo­ple are well­trained,” Neal said. “They have years of ser­vice. I am not go­ing to just turn them loose . ... Their ser­vices will be used in an­other place, in an­other way. They will be ser­vic­ing th­ese same stu­dents.”

A GLOBAL SCHOOL COM­MU­NITY

In re­cent years, refugees from the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, Burma and Bhutan have re­set­tled in Fort Worth.

As a re­sult of Tar­rant County’s wel­com­ing na­ture to refugees, school dis­tricts are teach­ing stu­dents whose bi­ogra­phies re­flect world prob­lems and U.S. poli­cies. In Keller schools, there are 63 lan­guages spo­ken by stu­dents with Span­ish, Vietnamese, Nepali and Ara­bic the most com­mon.

Ar­ling­ton, Birdville and Hurst-Eu­less-Bed­ford have also served com­mu­ni­ties of global stu­dents.

When the num­ber of refugee young­sters swelled, the Fort Worth school dis­trict re­sponded with added ser­vices.

Rus­sell Smith, CEO of Refugee Ser­vices of Texas, said it isn’t sur­pris­ing that re­cent cuts in the num­ber of refugees re­set­tled in the United States would start to af­fect lo­cal schools. His agency, the largest one of three serv­ing Tar­rant County, has been re­set­tling fewer refugees.

In 2016, they helped re­set­tle 581 refugees in Fort Worth. Last year, they re­set­tled 150.

Those num­bers are ex­pected to keep go­ing down.

U.S. pres­i­dents set a yearly cap on the num­ber of refugees re­set­tled. In the last year of the Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion the cap was set at 110,000. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion set the cap lower for two con­sec­u­tive years. It is now 30,000.

Smith said about 12,000 refugees have been re­set­tled so far this fis­cal year.

There are 25.4 mil­lion refugees in the world, he said, ex­plain­ing that they are gen­er­ally in refugee camps.

Jerry Bur­kett, as­sis­tant dean at UNT Dal­las’ School of Ed­u­ca­tion, has re­searched how schools have re­sponded to im­mi­grant and refugee fears in the cur­rent na­tional cli­mate.

“We are not as wel­com­ing a na­tion as we once were” Bur­kett said, ex­plain­ing that some coun­tries are open­ing their doors to refugees as the United States turns more away.

Bur­kett said U.S. poli­cies, travel bans and in­creased im­mi­gra­tion crack­downs in­still fear in im­mi­grants and refugees. His re­search found school lead­ers have stepped in to calm fam­i­lies.

“I think school dis­tricts should be very proud of the work they are do­ing,” Bur­kett said.

A NEW MODEL

Stu­dents who re­ceive lessons in Fort Worth’s lan­guage cen­ters have been in U.S. school sys­tems for up to two years and don’t come from Span­ish-speak­ing coun­tries. The lan­guage cen­ters are housed at seven el­e­men­tary schools — Carter Park, Kirkpatrick, Mead­ow­brook, Bruce Shulkey, Western Hills, Clifford Davis and Sem­i­nary Hills Park.

“Peo­ple talk about the fam­i­lies com­ing across the south­ern bor­der, but if they are Span­ish-speak­ing and at the el­e­men­tary level, they don’t come into ESL,” Neal said. “I have to be as ef­fi­cient as pos­si­ble and still pro­vide ser­vices. I re­ally need to look at do­ing it on a broader scale with the re­sources I have.”

The lan­guage cen­ters at five high schools will not change be­cause those stu­dent num­bers are still “vi­able,” Neal said.

There are 413 stu­dents served at the high school lan­guage cen­ters. There may be more next year be­cause the eighth grade stu­dents are mov­ing into high school. If stu­dents move into high school while still in the ESL win­dow, they will con­tinue to re­ceive ser­vices in high school.

“I need to use tax­payer dol­lars as ef­fec­tively and ef­fi­ciently as I can. I also get money from the fed­eral govern­ment and they want me to use the money as ef­fec­tively and ef­fi­ciently as pos­si­ble,” Neal said, adding that she still has to make sure th­ese stu­dents suc­ceed in school. “I still have to make sure they are be­ing pre­pared to grad­u­ate from high school in Amer­ica.”

Un­der the pro­posed plans, stu­dents will rely on teach­ers who will sup­port cam­puses ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the high­est con­cen­tra­tions of English lan­guage learn­ers. His­tor­i­cally, the dis­trict tried to place the cen­ters close to parts of the city in which refugee fam­i­lies set­tled, Neal said. But that could prove dif­fi­cult be­cause refugee pop­u­la­tions are af­fected by how many the fed­eral govern­ment al­lows into the coun­try and where re­set­tle­ment agen­cies help place them.

“We have a very fluid pop­u­la­tion that we work with,” Neal said. “The fam­i­lies move a lot. They may be in this apart­ment com­plex for six months and then the move over here where their friends live.”

As a re­sult, the num­ber of stu­dents served at the cam­pus cen­ters al­ways vary, Neal said.

Neal said they are mak­ing changes with the refugee per­spec­tive in mind.

“They are new in the coun­try,” Neal said. “Their mom­mas and dad­dies may not have trans­porta­tion to school. I re­ally don’t want them too far from home. I want them to be taken care of in a neigh­bor­hood school in­stead of bus­ing them across town just be­cause that’s where the teacher is.”

Neal said they are also mind­ful of the strong con­nec­tions be­tween teacher and stu­dents.

“Teach­ers get at­tached to the chil­dren in their room,” Neal said. “I don’t think it changes whether it is a kid born in a Amer­ica or a kid born in Gu­atemala. It’s your child in your room. You love the ones who come to you.”

ROY ODELL Fort Worth school dis­trict

As the Fort Worth school dis­trict stream­lines ser­vices to stretch fund­ing, it plans to re­vamp how English as a Sec­ond Lan­guage is de­liv­ered as fewer refugee chil­dren ar­rive to build new lives in Tar­rant County af­ter flee­ing war, re­li­gious in­tol­er­ance or per­se­cu­tion in their na­tive lands.

RODGER MALLISON rmalli­[email protected]­gram.com

Refugees from coun­tries such as Viet­nam, Bos­nia, So­ma­lia, Su­dan and Syria have re­set­tled in North Texas through the years.

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