Utah School Districts Prepare for Foreign Language Students

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    By Sean Walker

    Due to the rise in the ethnic minority population in Utah, school districts around the state are feeling the need for better bilingual programs.

    Utah”s ethnic minority population is on the rise, according to a recent study by the University of Utah”s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. Utah”s ethnic minorities make up 17.4 percent of the population, and 64.6 percent of the minority groups are Hispanic.

    At Provo High School, nearly one-quarter of the school is Spanish speaking, making teacher”s communication with parents difficult. To combat such difficulties, Provo High recently hired a bilingual specialist to work in the Parent Center.

    “More than anything, the Parent Center was designed to teach parents how to keep track of their kids,” said Andrew Ranes, director of the Parent Center. “A lot of parents would like to be more involved with their kids, but they don”t have the resources to do so. Once they know how their kids are doing, we provide the parents with different programs and resources to help their kids succeed.”

    Ranes said part of his responsibility is to communicate the programs of the school with its Hispanic parents. Some Hispanic students don”t speak Spanish, so their parents have an increasingly difficult time communicating with them about academic things.

    “A lot of Hispanic children are too scared to speak Spanish because they don”t get enough opportunities to use the language at home,” Ranes said. “The attitude appears to be to immerse the children in the U.S. culture.”

    Many classes at Provo High are also taught in Spanish, for students who immigrate to the United States during their high school experience.

    “I have seen students who have regular schedule classes marked as ESL [English as a Second Language],” Ranes said, “In other words, those classes are taught in Spanish, and they include classes in history, math, etc. These are primarily the new students who only speak Spanish.”

    The policy at nearby Timpview High School in Provo is quite different from that of its rival school. With 13 percent of the student population of Hispanic descent (244 students), the need for a bilingual program is still great.

    “We always hire new teachers who are bilingual, as well as provide a comprehensive strategic plan, in which we make contact with the students even before they come to the high school,” said Fidel Montero, Timpview assistant principal. “We then meet with parents so that they understand policies, procedures, etc. If they have had academic problems in the past, we provide tutors, mentors, and faculty members who can provide ways for them to be successful in the classroom. Connecting them to members of the community who can serve as role models is also crucial.”

    Montero said Timpview”s main objective involves giving parents an increased opportunity to get involved in the academic lives of their children.

    “We try to empower parents by informing them of their children, then letting them govern themselves,” Montero said, “We make them aware of what the research indicates as far as their student”s success and what their involvement can do to help that success.”

    Meanwhile, at Springville High School, Assistant Principal Brian Thorn said they are dealing with bilingual students, first by merely making themselves aware of them as an issue.

    “We just implemented a study hall class this year specifically targeting students in the transitional stage of language acquisition,” Thorn said, “It”s almost like a school within a school. The challenge is to always keep them feeling like they are a part of Springville High.”

    Springville High boasts a small, yet rapidly rising Hispanic student population. According to the SHS Counseling Center, there are 93 Hispanic students at the high school, and only 12 of them are enrolled in official ESL classes.

    However, Thorn said, whereas most ESL classes enhance a foreign language student”s ability to become proficient with English, most students need help with everyday conversation skills. That is the benefit of one of their new classes.

    “It is a chunk of time where the student is immersed in classes specifically targeting how to improve their second language skills,” Thorn said, “For example, they teach the student specific everyday conversations like how to take a test, and other things that we take for granted. Then, ESL classes help get them to English proficiency.”

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