Cedar Rapids School District Prepares for Rise in English Language Learners
By Jill Kasparie, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Some teachers will have their hands full with students coming from many different backgrounds when they go back to school in a couple weeks.
Hundreds of kids will be enrolled in the English Language Learner Program or ELL program within the Cedar Rapids Community School District. The numbers are growing every year.
Data from the Iowa Department of Education shows that ten years ago, the Cedar Rapids district had 158 students who weren't proficient English speakers. Fast forward to 2010/2011 and the district had 401. The next year the number was 426, and then just last school year, it jumped to 455. The most common languages other than English are Swahili and Spanish.
Workers in the ELL program said it's likely the number will go above 500 this coming school year. Parents are still enrolling kids in classes so there's no official number yet.
"We do expect quite a jump on numbers and some of the numbers especially like at the schools like Hoover. They are kind of, really -- high,” District Intercultural Specialist Rama Muzo said.
Muzo works one on one with many African families who came to the U.S. as refugees and are enrolling their kids in the district. He speaks Swahili and so do they. The intercultural specialist, employed by the district, is both translator and guide for people. He helps people like Elias Enoch whose kids were born in Tanzania and whose family experienced war. Now his kids are excited to be students at Hoover Elementary.
"They've been asking, you know, every day --there's two days left, two weeks left. They are doing the countdown,” Enoch said.
Enoch's kids are part of the ELL program.
Muzo said many parents enroll their children at Hoover because of the support network and the nearby housing options.
"This coming year, probably we'll have to come up with new strategies on how we'll be able to deal with capacity as far as providing the support system for these students,” Muzo said.
"We have right around 380 students right now and 91 of those will be ELL students,” said Hoover Principal Clint Stone.
Stone said his staff has to adapt to the different cultures, but there is real benefit to the diversity.
"We have a global economy now, and giving our students the chance to learn different cultures and languages -- I just really feel that gives them a heads up as they look towards the work force and being college-career ready,” Stone said.
And college is something Enoch says his kids will enroll in, especially after going through the ELL program.
"They will be really good citizens, not only in the community but also in the nation,” Enoch said.
District leaders say the student population growth of English language learners isn't just on the rise in Cedar Rapids, but across the nation.
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