Learning in a foreign language

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Editorial: Sept. 19, 2013

ISSUE: Students learning English
OUR VIEW: Peers play significant role

At Radcliff Elementary School, a second-grade student has stepped up as a translator, providing tremendous support to a fellow classmate and her teacher.

While teacher Kelly Everhart has worked with a variety of students who were learning English as a second language, Jenny Mata-Oliva is the first of her students not to speak any English.

Jemilyana Pabon, who often speaks Spanish with her grandmother, saw Jenny’s struggles and volunteered to help. She translates for Jenny and Everhart, and the girls have become good friends.

Jenny is one of 374 students in Hardin County Schools’ English as a Second Language program. The number of ESL students and diversity of first languages is growing.

Nationally, in the 2010-11 school year, 4.7 million public school students — 10 percent — were English language learners, up from 4.1 million in 2002-03, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Americais the world’s leading immigrant destination and the country’s immigrant population continues to grow. And while five states — California, New York, Texas, Florida and New Jersey — are home to 60 percent of U.S. immigrants, immigrant population growth is highest in the Southeast. Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi are the top five states for immigrant population growth since 2000, according to U.S. Census data.

ESL needs in schools will grow.

In Hardin County, the ESL program starts with a parent survey and then a test to determine a student’s English proficiency. From there, educators must develop a learning plan for the student.

A number of tools help new English language learners. For one thing, area schools treasure relationships with the international community, from which bilingual volunteers can be tapped. It also is common to pair students who share a language.

For some students, completing assignments in a variety of subjects can be tough enough. But hundreds of area children face the additional pressure of overcoming academic and social barriers related to language.

A fellow student, a friend — someone like Jemilyana at Radcliff Elementary — has a significant impact for those children.

Jemilyana is quite deserving of the Patriot on Parade award she received at school for her display of compassion and leadership.

Parents who have children with bilingual skills should encourage them to look for opportunities to help classmates.

Further, adults who speak a second language should tell the school districts near their homes or workplaces about their skills. Spending time volunteering, even if it’s just a little time, would make a difference.

This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.