Schools face growing number of immigrant children

By ZHAO PENG
Capital News Service

LANSING— The number of English language learners in Michigan’s elementary and secondary schools has increased 15,784 since 2011, according to the Department of Education (DOE).

And with more immigrants settling in Michigan, more actions need to be done to help immigrant students with their English, according to the department.

Michigan has 99,500 immigrant students this school year, a significant increase from the previous year, according to the DOE. Troy, Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Farmington and Warren Consolidated Schools have a larger number of newly arrived immigrant students than other districts.

Dearborn and Detroit Public Schools have the largest proportion of English learners, DOE statistics show.

According to Christi Henders, an administrative assistant in the Grand Rapids School District, 4,097 students are English learners and they speak 32 non-English languages. Spanish is the native language of 86 percent of them.

According to Henders, the Grand Rapids district is working on three program models to help English learners: the bilingual dual immersion model, the transition bilingual model and the English as a Second Language (ESL) model.

The goal of the bilingual dual immersion model is to help students develop proficiency in two languages by receiving instruction in English and Spanish in a single course. The transition bilingual model facilitates students’ transition to an all-English instructional program. And the English as a Second Language model is targeted to help students meet a higher-level language proficiency.

Mayda Bahamonde-Gunnell, the executive director of K-8/middle schools and English language learners, said the district has 119 certified ESL teachers for grades K-12.

“With more immigrant students arriving, we need to continue to hire more ESL-certified teachers,” she said. “The challenge is finding enough ESL-certified teachers in the core content areas.”

The Farmington Public Schools is also facing a shortage of certified teachers for some languages.

“Our biggest challenge is that we have over 19 languages represented and lack bilingual teachers for some languages,” said Naomi Khalil, the district director of instructional equity. “We are making a lot of efforts to increase the number of certified ESL teachers for our students. We do always need more.”

Shereen Tabrizi, an educational consultant manager at the DOE, said the department provides extensive support to districts regarding best practices and evidence-based programming for ESL instruction.

“We provide statewide training to ESL teachers on second-language acquisition strategies and approaches,” said Tabrizi. “We have over 120 trainers across the state that train and coach teachers of English learners.”

However, each district has control over what it needs to provide, and the department’s responsibility is to guide them, she said.

“We have specific expectations from the school districts,” said Tabrizi. “We tell them a good program should have certified teachers who have second-language acquisition training and additional staff working in small groups who are focused on English acquisition and development. They can integrate math and reading into teaching English.”

Funding challenges the operation of English programs, especially with increasing immigrant students. And the responsibility of the department is to help the schools design a program focused on good, instructional delivery where they can use multiple sources of funds, according to Tabrizi.

“We get the same amount of funding from the federal government, yet we had additional students,” said Tabrizi.

“So what we have done to help the district schools is to show them how to coordinate all the federal funding, not just the funding we give them.”

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR CNS EDITORS
Michigan Department of Education data: https://www.mischooldata.org/