Vancouver is listed in every Russian history book, Ed Wilgus says. That’s one reason Vancouver’s Russian population is growing.

To help meet that growing population, the Vancouver School District has received a $ 1.28 million grant over the next five years to support the bilingual English literacy program at Eleanor Roosevelt Elementary School.

Wilgus is director of the district’s English as a Second Language program. He said that almost 150 Roosevelt students came to this country from the former Soviet Union.

The school at 2921 Falk Road has an enrollment of 755 in grades kindergarten through five. About 28 percent of the students have limited English proficiency, and two-thirds of them are native Russian speakers. Roosevelt has the highest Russian student population among Vancouver’s elementary schools. That is because of the high concentration of Russian families in that neighborhood.

“Vancouver is written about in every Russian history book because of the Chkalov flight,” Wilgus said. Three Russian fliers flew non-stop over the North Pole from Moscow to Vancouver in 1937.

Some Russians are coming here from California because of Proposition 187, a 1994 law that denies almost all services to illegal immigrants.

“Russian churches have been able get mortgages and establish here, and Russian populations are growing around those churches,” Wilgus said.

The U.S. Department of Education awarded the money, which will consist of $ 256,000 a year for the next five years. The money will provide five staff positions a family/community specialist, a bilingual literacy specialist and three staff assistants. The program will also focus on all students in the school, promoting cross-cultural communication and understanding.

The Roosevelt project will likely become a model for other schools that are experiencing rapid growth in English as a Second Language students.

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