Summer break means more classes for young English learners

Summer break is no break from learning English for many area children of immigrant families.

Though most school districts are closed, some in Butler and Warren counties are open half-days for English as a Second Language (ESL) students.

And in recent years as local immigration and the need for English instruction has increased so too has the number of churches who are joining local schools in offering ESL classes for children and adults.

From Hamilton City Schools’ Riverview Elementary, which is buzzing with immigrant children – mostly Hispanic – to Mason’s Western Row Elementary ESL classes, the early summer is a busy time for youngsters learning English.

It’s a local mirror of a state trend predicted to continue.

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About 2.9 percent of Ohio’s 1.7 million, K-12 public school students are enrolled in ESL classes.

And according to the U.S. Department of Education, the 10 percent of ESL students among all K-12 students in the country will increase to 40 percent by 2030.

Tiny Naomi Arredondo is among the faces that comprise those statistics.

The six-year-old student at Mason’s Western Row paused last week during a break from her ESL class and shared some of what she is learning.

“I like when we do reading and I like when we do math,” said Naomi, whose mother is from Mexico.

Last school year Mason City Schools, which enrolls 11,000 students, had 594 ESL students, which is up 47 percent from the 2012-2013 school year.

Naomi’s mother, Dulce Juarez, is glad to hear her daughter’s affection for the summer ESL classes.

“My daughter really loves the program and I’m very happy she is there,” Juarez says in her deep Spanish accent. “And she really helps me a lot with English.”

That happens a lot and is one of the many positives of ESL programs during the summer and school year, according to Joy Xiao, director of the Center for English as a Second Language at the University of Cincinnati Teachers College.

“Kids at that early age are like sponges when it comes to languages,” Xiao said. “The ideal age to start learning a new language is before seven years old.”

ESL summer programs enhance language skill learning and keep the instructional momentum going from classes during the regular school year, she said.

She praised the greater involvement in recent years of area churches, many of whom offer various forms of ESL classes for adults and children.

“The reason churches are offering these classes is because of the need from more families. Churches are offering more opportunities,” Xiao said.

Pastor Travis Smalley of the Lakota Hills Baptist Church in West Chester Twp. was one of the first in the area to offer ESL instruction. In the past decade he has seen an explosion of immigrant families participating.

A decade ago, according to Smalley, the church’s first ESL class consisted of 10 students “but now more than 200 English learners are enrolled.”

“It’s increasingly diverse here,” said Smalley whose church frontage on Tylersville Road regularly features a bright sign advertising ESL classes.

“It’s giving them (immigrant families) a very practical skill — English,” he said.

Sue Mahlock, director of outreach programs for the West Chester and Liberty Township Faith Alliance group of churches, said more churches have been offering ESL in recent years.

“There has been steady growth and we are doing what we can do,” said Mahlock, whose alliance group represents 20 area churches. “If you don’t speak English in this country it will be very difficult and it’s important to get that help early in life.”

Hamilton City Schools, which has Ohio’s 15th largest ESL program among the state’s 613 school districts, serves nearly 600 students — up from 457 students in 2011 — during the school year and dozens during the summer at its Riverview Elementary ESL program.

But the largest district in Butler County is taking a different approach this summer.

For the first time in two summers Lakota Local Schools, which has more than 900 ESL students among its 16,500 students, is not offering ESL summer classes. Lakota officials said it was a strategic move to stop summer classes and put more money, resources and language instructors into the school year ESL program.

“For just two years, one of our responses to a changing population of ESL students was to offer a summer ESL course. But that was a short-term fix to the mounting need for more direct support of core instruction,” said Lauren Boettcher, spokeswoman for Lakota.

“By gradually increasing our ESL teaching team by three, we are much better set up to support our current population of ESL students during the actual school year. And that direct tie to the classroom was something we could never deliver under the structure of the summer ESL program,” Boettcher said. “This way, we can help more kids and in a much more meaningful way.”

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