ESL – a small but critical program in the LF district

By Tina Snell

Kathy Paradeis has her office in Lindbergh Elementary School but works with students of all ages in the entire district. She is the English as a Second Language teacher, helping those who enter the school system speaking a native language other than English. She currently has ten students who speak Vietnamese, Chinese and Spanish. There is one in the LFCHS, one in the LFCMS and eight students who attend Lindbergh Elementary. Over the years she has also seen students from Latvia, Croatia, Russia and Bosnia.

Kathy works with the students in a one-to-one setting, finding it so much easier than having them all together. In the beginning there is a lot of pantomiming and pointing. She explained that having the kids immersed with English in all their classes and having them hear it all day from teachers and students helps. And, she has found the younger students respond faster than the older ones. They have an easier time following what is going on in class.

“It is so much tougher on students in the eighth or ninth grade,” she explained. “Those students are already behind nine years of English classes, compared to students who have lived here their entire lives. Those kids just beginning school are not that far behind the other students of the same age who are also just beginning school.”

The students see Kathy for a half hour or one hour, depending on their needs and age. The older the student, the more time is needed. Also, more time is needed if the student has no proficiency in English as opposed to limited proficiency.

According to Kathy, there are about 30 students in the Little Falls District who speak English as a second language. The problem in communication usually doesn’t arise in conversational English, but in academic English. The two are much different and each student needs the latter to perform well in school.

Another problem Kathy has seen arises at the student’s home. In many cases, the father learns English to perform well at work. But the mother, home with the children, many times does not learn the language. As the children learn more and more English, they become less proficient in their native tongue and become alienated from their mother, and possibly the father, too.

At least one, if not both of the parents may not have the ability to communicate with teachers or the administration about important matters or to help the student with homework. Kathy encourages each of her students to keep using their native language while they learn English. In this ever-shrinking world, she feels it is very important to know more than one language.

Kathy majored in English, looking to teach at the college level. She received her Masters in Education. While interning in St. Cloud, she took an interest in the ESL program there. She is licensed to teach ESL in K-12 and Language Arts in grades seven through 12.

When asked about her biggest challenges working with students who don’t speak English, Kathy explained, “It’s learning what is the best strategy for each student. Their levels are all different, as are their ages. But I am lucky only having to work with a small number of students. I can set up individual programs and see progress. It would not happen in a larger district.”

Kathy also told of her successes. “Seeing a student graduate out of ESL is a great success story,” she said. “They need to pass a set of tests for ESL students only, along with the same tests the other students take. I see progress each year if the students stay in the district and work with the ESL program.”

According to the Minnesota Foundation on immigration in the state, Minnesota’s public school students now speak more than 70 different languages at home. During the 2003-04 school year, there were more than 50,000 students classified as English language learners. The number of students speaking another language at home was 827,610 for the 2005-06 school year.

Today, one out of every 10 students is an English as a second language learner, totaling about five million students in the United States. These students are eligible by federal law for special services if they cannot participate meaningfully and equally in an English-only school environment. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance.

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