Supervisor of Early Childhood and Special Programs Kellye Bender said this is not the first time the city school system has had refugee-status students.
“We have had them in the past, but I think we are more aware of it now,” she said. “There are some students who come in and register and we don’t know ... that is not something we can ask them,” she said of legal restrictions concerning student information.
She said every student is treated the same way, regardless of relocation packets they may choose to present during enrollment.
“We treat them all just like students who are coming to Cleveland City Schools,” Bender said. “We accept them. We register them. We put them in a class and we educate them.”
All students receive a Home Language survey upon enrollment. There are three questions which must be answered. The survey asks for the dominant language of the family, whether there is another language spoken at home and the first language the student spoke. Students who answer any of the questions with a language aside from “English” must be screened.
As of the 2013-14 school year, there were approximately 685 students who spoke another language. These students were classified as either Non-English Language Background or English Language Learners. The 289 NELB students spoke fluent English and were not in need of English as a Second Language courses. The remaining 396 received specialized training with ESL teachers.
According to a chart presented by Bender, there were 24 different languages represented by the NELB students. These languages included: Albanian, Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese, Chuukese, Dutch, French, German, Gujarati, Haitian, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Marathi, Micronesian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tamil, Tagalog, Ukrainian and Vietnamese.
There were 13 languages spoken by the ELL students: Bantu, Chinese, Chuukese, French Gujarati, Hindi, Micronesian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Ukrainian, Tagalog and Vietnamese.
Spanish-speaking students made up 200 of the NELB group and 339 of the ELL students.
The numbers of NELB students have fluctuated since the 2002-03 school year. The records start with 260 students and peaked at 347 NELB students in the 2010-11 school year. English Language Learners have steadily grown from the 2002-03 numbers of 126 to the 2013-14 numbers of 396.
Director of Schools Martin Ringstaff said the large NELB and ELL numbers prepare students for an increasingly diverse world. He said teaching a child how to speak English and understand scholastic subjects in English is part of the school system’s job.
“It is time in our strategic plan we figure out how to deal with ELL as a major focus in our school system, not as ‘Oh, well, let’s see what we can do with those kids who don’t speak English,’” Ringstaff said. “We know they don’t speak English. We are not trying to change their culture. We do want them to do very well on everything we do and we want to treat them the same way we do everyone else in this school.”
Bender explained a newcomers class has been established at Cleveland High and Cleveland Middle for incoming students who do not speak any English. The class is held every morning. Students are taught basic introductions, basic language, the layout of the school and the day-to-day routines.
Each ELL student in the newcomer’s classes is placed with a NELB student who speaks the same language and dialect as them.
Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction Jeff Elliott said the partners can help the ELL students understand everything from a particular subject to the morning announcements.
“There are some things we take for granted after being around school settings for a number of years,” he said. “[The newcomers class] gets that out of the way so they can start concentrating on learning math or English and everything else we throw at them.”
Bender said although teachers are equipped with ELL strategies, it is still difficult to be prepared for someone in class who does not speak English.
“The classroom teachers are very good with these students,” she said. “They are very patient. They work with the [partners] to try and make sure [the ELL] student understands all the things they need. They are willing to go the extra mile.”
The newcomers class is a new initiative to better aid the growing ELL population. All students, refugee or otherwise, who do not know English will be placed in the class.
“It is a great experience to watch the students learn and to [see] how much progress these students make,” Elliott said. “The growth is unbelieveable.”