“There are enough first-grade students currently enrolled who are English-deficient to justify the program,” BISD Superintendent Dr. Sue Thomas told board members at their regular meeting Nov. 27.
She hopes to start the program for kindergarten students this coming semester. While optimistic, Thomas warned the board to expect “growing pains” as the program is developed.
BISD already has an English-as-Second-Language program in place. However, ESL classes are mostly taught in English; bilingual classes are taught in whatever language the students are speaking.
“You might need to have them in Chinese or Vietnamese,” says Thomas, who taught ESL classes in Sinton in the early 1970s, “but in Beeville you need them in Spanish.”
All students who first enroll in BISD schools are given a language survey for their parents to fill out to ascertain if their child speaks a second language.
The students then are given a language assessment survey (LAS) which indicates how much English they know.
The survey results determine whether a student goes into an ESL or a bilingual program.
In order to begin a bilingual program, the Texas Education Agency requires a district to have a minimum of 20 students who show limited English skills — meaning they must be taught in their own language in order for them to become proficient in English.
Thomas says BISD now has between 20 to 23 students in first grade who qualify.
Curiously, the TEA required that BISD get parental approval to place their child in a bilingual program.
Nine BISD teachers are certified to teach a bilingual class.
“To be certified,” Thomas says, “you must not only be able to read and write a language; you must be able to speak it and to be able to listen to it.”
Thomas says that BISD already offers a small stipend to its ESL teachers and plans a similar stipend for its bilingual teachers.
“I think this new program will better help students,” Thomas says, who foresees increased enrollment of English-deficient students from not only Mexico but other Central American countries as well because of the demands for workers by the Eagle Ford Shale operations.
“The bilingual program will close the English-deficient gap quickly,” she predicts.
Thomas says she is immediately looking to hire more teachers who are bilingual certified. Usually, a district has one teacher certified to teach bilingual for each grade level.
In addition, Thomas is planning a public-relations campaign to raise awareness among parents about the existence of the bilingual program.
“This is going to be great for the district,” Thomas predicts.
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.