Local News

Bridging Language Barrier Strains Wake Schools

Posted August 28, 2007 6:25 p.m. EDT
Updated August 28, 2007 7:25 p.m. EDT

— Students who don't speak English account for part of the enrollment growth in Wake County schools, putting pressure on the school district's English-as-Second-Language program.

More than 7,000 students are enrolled in the district's ESL program, which is offered at almost all public schools in the county. A quarter of the ESL students don't speak a word of English, officials said.

"For those who come here with limited schooling or are completely unschooled, it's very, very difficult to catch up," said Carol Dukes, who teaches students from 20 different countries in an ESL class at Raleigh's Broughton High School.

The students spend about 45 minutes to an hour a day with ESL teachers like Dukes. The rest of the time is spent in traditional classrooms.

"Many of those students will drop out. It's just so much of a struggle to learn the basics," she said.

The district's ESL program has been growing by about 10 percent a year, director Tim Hart said. Regular classroom time helps students absorb English and adapt, he said.

"They are having to learn English, and yet they've got to learn the regular curriculum also," he said.

Regulations under the federal No Child Left Behind program also require the ESL students to take the same end-of-grade and end-of-course tests as other students.

"People say it's almost like shooting at a moving target with these students," Hart said.

Dukes said she would like to see a different school for those who don't have the language skills and background to thrive in regular classes.

"These students need to be in a special environment with ESL teachers who can help them," she said.

Hart said such a school is in the planning stages. Also, ESL programs will be added next year at Enloe High School and Brooks Elementary School, the only two schools in the district that don't offer the instruction, he said.