AURORA – Something is wrong when the principal is looking for her cheat sheet.
Elaine Bramow, the energetic principal of Boston Elementary School, is scrambling around her office looking for a piece of scrap paper with her name on it.
She’s got five minutes to learn how to pronounce her name then recite it in front of her classmates.
And she’s already late for class.
‘Oh, I can’t believe this,’ Bramow says. ‘It’s my first day of class, and
I’m late. And I forgot my cheat sheet.’ She finds the sheet of paper, rushes
out of her office and into the gym, where the students, all instructors at Aurora schools, and instructor Rebecca Marques-Guerrero are waiting.
The class is one arm of Bilingual Education for Aurora’s Reform, or BEAR, at Boston Elementary School, and is just one component of a districtwide effort by Aurora Public Schools to address the district’s changing demographics. Over the past 10 years, the district has seen a large influx of non-English-speaking students.
Most of those students speak Spanish. Most of the teachers don’t. At
Boston, Bramow estimates, the school’s population has gone from about 23 percent Hispanic to about 59 percent in the past few years. Of that 59 percent, 49 percent of the students do not speak English.
There are several parts of the BEAR project, and each is designed to offer help to the three groups that need it most: parents, students and staff.
Bramow said a three-year, $ 500,000 Bilingual Education Program Development and Implementation Grant from the U.S. Department of Education allows them to keep the program running.
‘The entire program is based on the idea of time and opportunity,’ she said. ‘We want to provide time and opportunity for parents and community, time and opportunity for staff and time and opportunity for students.’
For non-English-speaking parents, there are English classes available on Saturday mornings at Boston. The parents also are learning about the school’s environment and culture, and community issues.
‘We’ve got about 30 parents enrolled,’ Bramow said. ‘The majority of the parents are parents of our students, but we’ve also got some parents who want help with English but don’t have any children enrolled. And we’ve also asked them to bring in people who may be interested.’
Bramow said that when the program’s $ 500,000 grant expires in three years, they’ll reapply. If they’re rejected, they’ll keep applying for additional grants. By then, Bramow said, she hopes more federal and state officials will understand the need for extra funding to teach non-English-speaking students.
To help students, the school hopes to hire several Spanish-speaking staff members over the next three years. These staff members will work directly in the classroom with teachers, Bramow said.
In addition, the school offers after-school and before-school tutoring in language classes, and a four-week Extended Learning Opportunity session in the summer for non-English-speaking students. There is no fee for the courses since they’re covered by the grant.
For staff members, the school offers Spanish classes on Thursday evenings.
‘Our goal is to have more than half of our staff endorsed in ESL,’ Bramow said. English as a Second Language instructors are trained in teaching English
to those whose native language is not English. Debbie Boutwell has been a
second-grade teacher at Boston for 15 years, and has witnessed the shifting demographics. She said the biggest challenge for her has been communicating with the parents.
‘That was the hardest part to overcome,’ she said. ‘A lot of the parents
didn’t want to come here because they didn’t understand the language, they
didn’t feel comfortable coming here talking to us.
‘For example, we’d send notes home, and they would get our notes but wouldn’t understand them. So they didn’t reply. … The teacher couldn’t communicate with the parents about their child’s education.’