Kansas working to break language barriers as bilingual student enrollment grows

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- A program to help students who can't speak English is being kicked into high gear in Kansas schools, after a new study shows a huge increase in enrollment of bilingual students.

"The kids need to feel confident in what they are doing. Other then feeling like they don't understand," Cielo Fernandez said.

Fernandez knows that feeling of isolation.

She moved to the metro from Mexico years ago. At the time, her family didn't speak much English so she made the decision to put her daughter in the ESL program at school.

"We arrived in October, she didn't know any English. By December, not only could she have conversations with her classmates and teachers. But she was the first one to start reading in English," she said.

Fernandez now works at El Centro, helping immigrant families get their bearings.

Every day, she witnesses kids with much promise fall through the cracks of education, because of a language barrier.

"They don't know how to interact or what to say," she said.

And the amount of those children in the Kansas school district are multiplying. A new study found the amount of children in ESL went from 2,400 in 2009 to more than 3,200 last year, something the Shawnee Mission School District says it's working to accommodate.

"This is during a time when there are limited fiscal resources across the state of Kansas," Chief Academic Officer for the Shawnee Mission School District Ed Streich said.

Last school year, the district spent more than $2.9 million on the ESL program.

With limited funding and rising numbers of students, the district is looking into ways to bring the ESL program inside the classroom with other students, instead of isolating them and looking to hire teachers who have the ESL training.

"Those teachers are really not only the connectors of the kid for the education, but the connectors of the kids with the system, with the environment with the school," Fernandez said.

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4 comments

  • kctruth

    Just wondering what existing programs for our school children were cut to provide the $3 million for ESL programs for immigrants in our public schools? Perhaps the churches, La Raza and other liberal organizations that support unlimited immigration could privately fund ESL programs for these immigrants, so all kids can receive the best education our limited taxpayer funds can provide.

  • kearnal sanders

    kctruth while im with you on the immigration problem i would rather see my tax dollars go towards teaching them english instead of welfare, medical, housing, and social security for those thay have not worked for nor paid in to earn it. if these kids are in school and learning english i would say thats a big step in the right direction lets face it there is no border any more those days are gone obama has held out a lending hand to make that happen maybe some of these kids will grow into productive members of society look at the news or go visit any prison immigration isnt our biggest problem in this county

  • minglemediatvnetwork

    eduKan has developed a 2 year AA degree course where students start in spanish and learn english progressively – without additional classes or costs. Teaching them english along the way. I think it’s a brilliant ONLINE program that Kansas CC’s are doing through this consortium. Not sure why they aren’t being highlighted by Fox4KC? No one else is doing anything like this.