Learning algebra, biology and government can be quite the challenge for many middle and high school students. However, imagine also trying to learn the very basics of the English language at the same time.
This is the predicament many students in the Nashua School District now face. In fact, there are now nearly 1,300 students in the district for whom English is not their native language.
These students, classified as English Language Learners, collectively speak in 63 native tongues, our reporter learned. The most common is Spanish, followed by Portuguese. After that, other common languages include Telugu, Vietnamese, Tamil and Arabic.
For almost 1,300 ELL students, the entire district employs only 24 teachers. This means each educator is responsible for helping more than 50 students learn English.
“We’re not keeping up,” ELL program director Robert Cioppa told our reporter. “We’re in a bit of a pickle.”
Some students, Cioppa said, are coming from a private school in Colombia, whereas others might be refugees from Rwanda who have had no formal schooling. This creates significant disparities in the students’ abilities.
“Some people say it takes eight to 12 years to really be fluent in the language,” Cioppa said, adding, “It’s an imperfect system, but we’re constrained by what we are able to do.”
This year, Superintendent Jahmal Mosley campaigned heavily during the school budget process to add two ELL teachers to the staff.
“These ELL kids – they are not ‘they,'” Mosley said at the time, “they are ‘we.'”
However, when the Board of Aldermen required the district cut back their proposed budget by nearly $1 million, ELL teachers, along with any other new staff members, had to be removed from the equation.
Nearly two years ago, by a vote of 8-7, the BOA voted to declare Nashua a “Welcoming City.”
“Nashua is committed to continue building a welcoming and neighborly atmosphere in our community, where all people including immigrant newcomers are welcome, accepted and integrated,” city officials state on their website.
We are not experts in education, but it stands to reason that a ratio of one teacher for every 50 students is not helping ELL students reach their potential – or integrate themselves into Nashua’s society.
If Nashua wants to be a city that welcomes immigrants to this extent, its leaders should allocate more resources in an effort to ensure the children of said immigrants have a better chance to successfully learn English.