Program trains teachers to teach English as a second language

SALISBURY, Md.—With a growing number of immigrant pupils in area schools, a federally funded program at Salisbury State University aims to provide much needed instructors of English as a second language.

The $ 1.1 million Bilingual Careers Education program – one of 36 federally funded efforts across the country – has awarded 41 scholarships to public school teachers, students and working adults who want to pursue careers in bilingual education.

The goal is to provide a group of ESOL, or English for Speakers of Other Languages, instructors for rural school districts in 10 counties on the Maryland and Virginia shore.

“When we started the program in November, there were only eight certified ESOL teachers in this whole area,” said director Loni Moyer. “There is a critical shortage of ESOL teachers everywhere, and it’s worse in small school districts.”

Maryland has an estimated 17,000 ESOL pupils. The largest concentrations are in suburban Washington and Baltimore. But Eastern Shore school districts have seen steady increases as families from Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe have been drawn by abundant jobs, particularly in the poultry industry.

In Wicomico, school officials say the nearly 200 ESOL pupils in county schools speak 19 languages. Last year, more than 700 non-English-speaking pupils were enrolled in ESOL programs in the 10 Maryland and Virginia counties.

This fall, 15 teachers from local school districts will begin working toward master’s degrees in the Salisbury State program. Eight students have received four-year grants worth $ 5,000 a year to pursue bachelor’s degrees that will lead to certification as ESOL teachers. Eighteen scholarships have gone to bilingual adults who will take courses toward teaching certificates.

“It’s really crucial to have a program based here because you’re going to draw local people who will enter or continue working in the local school systems,” said Holly Fadden, a foreign- and secondary-language specialist for the state Education Department.

The challenge facing instructors is teaching children to read, write and speak English, even when the teacher does not speak the pupil’s native language.

“That’s the first thing everybody asks when you say you’re an ESOL teacher: ‘What language do you speak?’ ” said Lorrie Verplaetse, former director of Salisbury State’s ESOL master’s program. “It doesn’t matter how many languages you speak, there is always going to be a student who speaks a language you don’t understand.”

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