Speaking up

Speaking up

Albertville school leaders, teachers seek help for English learners

By MIRANDA HUMPHREY Albertville City Schools.

Albertville Kindergarten and Pre-K teacher Claudia Onofre shared her journey as an English Learner in Albertville with United States Congressman Robert Aderholt during a recent meeting, highlighting her unique connection with students facing similar challenges.

Photo special to The Reporter.

Albertville City Schools (ACS) is asking the state legislature for help to address significant challenges impacting the educational environment within the district, particularly concerning English Learners (EL).

Of the district’s 5,800 students, 65 percent are Hispanic and 34 percent, or 1,983 students, are classified as EL students and are learning English as a second language. The school system is facing hurdles in providing effective education to these students due to language barriers and limited or interrupted formal education.

The proportion of EL students presents a unique challenge for the school system. While larger school districts may have higher total numbers of EL students, Albertville faces a significantly higher percentage of EL students within its six schools. With approximately 2,000 EL students among its 5,800 total, resources are stretched thin in comparison to larger districts such as Jefferson County school system with 35,376 students and 8 percent or 2,896 EL students spread across 54 schools.

“ACS is home to excellent teachers who provide our students with a quality education every day. However, we face obstacles directly and indirectly influenced by the language barrier,” said Albertville Superintendent Dr. Bart Reeves.

In a letter to local and state leaders, Reeves outlined how the teachers and staff navigate these language and formal education barriers daily and called on state legislators for support as the student population continues to grow. While a few districts in Alabama encounter similar challenges, most are not experiencing them to the extent Albertville is.

Without sufficient support, Albertville teachers are tasked with not only teaching state standards but also with delivering instruction in a manner where it can be comprehended.

“While proficiency in English is undoubtedly vital, it’s important to understand that language proficiency does not determine a student’s capacity to learn. We firmly believe in the potential of all students to succeed and become proficient in English through dedicated support and resources. Our commitment extends to fostering a supportive learning environment for every student, regardless of their current language abilities,” said Reeves.

Currently, priority schools in Alabama receive an aide in every K-2 classroom. Priority schools are public Alabama schools that have received a D or an F on the state report card. Reeves believes that schools with a significant EL enrollment deserve the same level of support as priority schools when it comes to placing an aide in every K-2 classroom.

Additionally, ACS is advocating for an amendment to the Alabama Literacy Act, allowing EL students who do not pass the third grade reading assessment to advance to the next grade without being retained. This amendment is crucial to prevent penalizing students for their language learning journey.

The district is also requesting the establishment of a teacher unit mechanism to accommodate the influx of students arriving during the school year, as immigrant families continue to join ACS daily. In February alone, ACS enrolled 29 EL students.

“We are also actively supporting the extension of the state report card exception period for EL students from three years to five years on state assessments,” said Reeves. “This adjustment is in line with research findings which suggest that language acquisition generally requires five to seven years. Our aim is to ensure that EL students are given adequate time and support to demonstrate their language proficiency and academic capabilities.”

The school system is encouraging families and members of the community to reach out to state legislators for help.

“As someone who has dedicated 27 years to education, I thought I comprehended the challenges until I witnessed them firsthand,” said Reeves. “We want to extend an invitation for state legislators to step into our schools and experience the reality of our daily struggles and witness firsthand the challenges we face.”

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