Magnets will accept ESL students

First-graders can test, audition for 66 openings on Jan. 26

Sharp students whose strongest language is not English are about to enter the Garland school district’s gifted-and-talented programs at Hillside, Kimberlin and Walnut Glen academies.

District officials announced this week that 66 first-grade students enrolled in English as a second language classes would be accepted into the academies this fall.

It’s the first time in the 22-year history of the district’s gifted-and-talented programs that ESL students are eligible for the magnet programs in mathematics, reading, art and music.

Achievement testing and musical and artistic auditions for those 66 slots will be held Jan. 26 at Walnut Glen, 3101 Edgewood Drive. Decisions will be made by March 8.

White students make up 45.5 percent of the school district’s 52,448 students. But enrollment in the gifted-and-talented programs is 68 percent white, according to district coordinator Marta Mountjoy.

Changing demographics have not gone unnoticed.

“The state of Texas really urges you to have the number of gifted kids reflect the makeup of the district,” Ms. Mountjoy said.

She said children in bilingual classes first entered Garland’s gifted-and-talented programs five years ago. Now, ESL students, who she said generally have a tougher time with English than bilingual students, will begin flowing into the three academies.

“We’re taking a proactive approach,” Ms. Mountjoy said. “It’s really a gift to know two languages.”

More than 100 parents attended a meeting with district officials Wednesday night at Garland High School to discuss the new opportunity. Speakers addressed the group in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

“We’re really excited about this,” said Leticia De Los Santos, the district’s immigrant services evaluator. “Different ethnic backgrounds will be more fully represented, and that’s good for all the students.”

Former school board President Elvia Flores addressed the parents, who were among 1,000 families notified of the meeting.

“The district is giving you this great opportunity,” Ms. Flores said. “Take advantage of it. This is an opportunity that you must not waste.”

Ms. Flores urged the parents and their children not to be daunted by increased workloads and expenses that come with enrollment at the three academies.

If any family has a lack of money for school materials, Ms. Flores said: “Talk to your teacher. We will get it for you.”

Ms. Mountjoy said that district officials rely on first-grade teachers in bilingual and ESL classes to spot talented children who might qualify for gifted-and-talented programs.

Elena Lorio, one of the first-grade bilingual teachers at Cooper Elementary School, said after the meeting that she always welcomes the opportunity to refer students to those programs.

“I think it is such a neat opportunity for the kids,” Ms. Lorio said, adding that the enhanced educational regimen is especially important for smart children from families of modest financial means.

Ms. Mountjoy said parents who bring an artistically talented child to Walnut Glen on Jan. 26 also should bring a sample of that child’s art.

Children who sing or play a musical instrument, she said, “need to know two songs really well.”

Walnut Glen will open at 8 a.m. that day, she said.

“It’s going to be a very busy day.”

Staff writer Bill Lodge can be reached at 972-272-6591, ext. 225, and at [email protected]

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