Dundee Township-based Unit District 300 received $ 963,000 in federal grants this week to help fund bilingual education.
The grants are another sign that students of all backgrounds are filling the halls of the district’s schools, officials say.
District 300 took in $ 882,914 for teaching bilingual classes with more than 20 students sharing a common language and about $ 80,000 for classes of less than 20.
The federal government routinely pitches money to local school districts to help bilingual classes, based on the number of students. This year’s total is roughly $ 85,000 more than last year for about 100 new bilingual students, said Dianne Zalesky, second language coordinator.
Nearly $ 963,000 may seem like a lot of money, but it is not even half of the $ 1.9 million that will be spent on bilingual education for about 1,300 students, said Vic Berner, treasurer and supervisor of finance.
“It’s really not (a lot),” Zalesky said. “It isn’t when you consider all of the students being served, and it’s for the whole district. There are many different components, including teachers, materials, professional development.”
Deputy Superintendent Jane Schumacher said 43 languages are spoken among the district’s roughly 16,000 students.
But students with differing native tongues, primarily Spanish speakers, are nothing new to District 300, which had 9.5 percent of its students eligible for bilingual education during the 1997-98 school year, compared with a state average of 6.3 percent.
While district officials are familiar with accommodating students learning English, it still poses challenges.
“It’s harder to find bilingual teachers,” Zalesky said. “There is a shortage all over the country.”
Principal Dave Rolison is familiar with that problem, spending much of this past summer searching for bilingual teachers for Golfview Elementary School in Carpentersville, where about 65 percent of the students are Hispanic.
“It was hard this year,” Rolison said. “I don’t know why this year. I hired two bilingual teachers a week before school started. I was scrambling most of the summer trying to find people.”