In Broward County schools, about 25,500 of the 249,900 students struggle with English.
In the past decade, school officials say, the district has experienced an unprecedented increase in the number of students who, before mastering the three R’s, have to learn how to understand and speak English.
Broward students are from 164 different countries and speak 58 different languages. According to June 2000 figures, the most recent available, the second most common language spoken in Broward schools is Spanish – about 12,700 claim it as their native language. Haitian Creole is the third most common language, spoken by 6,400 children.
Broward school officials have, for the most part, rejected bilingual education like that used in Miami-Dade public schools, where students are frequently taught in Spanish and English.
Instead, students who speak other languages are instructed in English – either cordoned off in separate classrooms or in mainstream classes with native English speakers.
“What we have here is a program with bilingual support,” said Tania Mena, who coordinates the district’s English for Speakers of Other Languages program, known as ESOL.
“We don’t deliver subject matters in Spanish or other languages. What we do is provide English instruction, and when the child does not speak any English, we provide bilingual support from teachers or paraprofessionals.”
If a school enrolls 15 or more students who speak a common language, the school must hire a teacher or an aide fluent in both languages.
When there are fewer students, teachers are not necessarily fluent in another language, so they use other methods, such as visual aids and body language, to communicate.
State law requires that every teacher who instructs a child with limited English ability undergo training in teaching English as a Second Language. That equates to five college courses for an elementary school language arts teacher, for instance.
Broward has struggled to hire enough teachers qualified to instruct ESOL students.
District data showed that, in the 1999-2000 school year, 1,163 teachers had students of limited English proficiency in their classrooms, but had not finished the required training.
Forty-seven Broward schools had 10 or more teachers serving foreign-born students without the required training, data showed.
Parents complained that district officials were not aggressive in hiring enough qualified teachers. District officials said they are struggling to keep up with the increased enrollment of non-English-speaking students.
District officials this year started Project Connection – an outreach program for parents of students who do not speak English that aims to educate families about the programs the district offers.
Administrators from the program will meet with parents in their communities to discuss ESOL issues, said Yvette Fernandez, who runs the parent outreach program.
“In other countries, most of the schools make decisions and the parents follow them,” Fernandez said. “There are so many more choices in this country. That is what we are trying to do, teach parents more and more about what choices they have.” STUDENTS LEARNING ENGLISH The number of Spanish-speaking students taking classes to learn English in Broward County public schools has risen steadily since 1996: Year Number % of students increase 1999 12,718 20 1998 10,600 15.2 1997 9,200 5.7 1996 8,700 17.6 1995 7,400