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Federal grants will help immigrant-rich school districts train more English language instructors

Ritenour teacher Deepa Jaswal helps her high school students at the district's International Welcome Center, which is for English-language learners, mark the regions of the United States on a map.
File | Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Ritenour teacher Deepa Jaswal helps high school students at the district's International Welcome Center for English-language learners. Ritenour is one of four area school districts trying to increase its number of English language instructors.

When nearly half the students in a school can’t speak English, every teacher becomes a language instructor to some extent.

Recognizing that reality, federal grants will help Missouri public school districts and local universities to train more teachers to be help those students in the classroom.

Bayless School District in south St. Louis County has long been home to a large immigrant population — first Bosnians in the mid-1990s and now newer waves of refugees. But the district has struggled to find qualified English instructors.

“You’re working at Bayless, you know you’re working with immigrant families,” said University of Missouri-Columbia professor Lisa Dorner, who is a faculty member working on the project.

Bayless is one four districts that will take advantage of a $2.6 million Department of Education grant through the University of Missouri System. Webster University won a $2.7 million federal grant last month to run a similar effort with St. Louis Public Schools, Ritenour and Parkway school districts.

Nearly half of Bayless’ students don’t speak English at home, according Kelly Klocke, Bayless’ director of English language learning. And she said just over a third of Bayless students receive English language services.

Bayless has eight full-time English instructors for its roughly 1,600 total students. Finding those teachers has been difficult, Klocke said.

“There is a definite need and a shortage of them,” she said.

Right now, students with some ability to speak English generally are pulled from their regular classrooms for addition instruction. Klocke said if classroom teachers can work with students who aren’t proficient in English, then their educational experience will improve.

“Our kids will have an opportunity to access the general curriculum all day long, by being supported in their speaking and in their listening and in their reading and their writing,” she said.

Under the UM System grant, 50 teachers will earn certificates to teach English over the next five years. Webster University will train 120 more instructors. Coursework will be done online, but teachers will also receive in-person mentoring.

To fill the past two openings, the Bayless district has had to hire from outside the St. Louis area. Klocke hopes to send 10 to 12 teachers through the certificate program. She said Bayless’ faculty is interested.

In the 2016-17 school year, St. Louis Public Schools gained 700 English language learners. That brings the district’s total enrollment of non-native English speakers to 2,700 of its total of 22,500 students, according to Alla Gonzalez Del Castillo, SLPS’ English language learning director.

Carthage R-9, Columbia and Kansas City Public Schools are the other partners in the UM System program.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.