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Salem schools find success leaping language barriers

SALEM — The school district’s English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program has been growing and prospering over the past several years, but school officials said its success is measured by more than test scores.

“The program has expanded over the years to meet the needs of children coming into this community without a true understanding of the English language and who are more comfortable with their native language,” said Superintendent Michael Delahanty. “Although we have a policy of immersing them in English culture, they still require a great deal of support. I’m incredibly proud of our ESOL instructors’ compassion for the kids they work with; they take the responsibility incredibly seriously.”

The ESOL program is overseen by district literacy director Jennie Marshall and includes about a half-dozen full- and part-time instructors.Marshall said those instructors do much more than work with the students to improve their language skills. They also work with classroom teachers to make sure the students succeed in the regular curriculum and assist the students’ families with everything from finding local health care to improving their own language.

This year, there are 107 ESOL students across the district’s eight schools, with the heaviest concentration of elementary ESOL students at the Soule School.

Those students come from 40 different countries and speak 21 different languages. The largest percentage, about 37 percent, speak Spanish, followed by 13 percent who speak Urdu, 12 percent who speak Chinese, 8 percent who speak Arabic, and 7 percent who speak Vietnamese.

The ESOL program is funded through a federal grant and achievement is measured through a combination of NECAP testing and a separate English language proficiency test for the ESOL students.

“All students in the program have shown growth in language development in their reading, writing, speaking and listening and in their academic achievement,” said Marshall.

Soule School Principal Anna Parrill praised the ESOL instructors for their willingness to work with teachers and students. She said she has seen the great steps many students have taken over a short period of time.

Adelaida Chong said she came to the United States in 2002 with her two daughters and that the ESOL program helped them immensely.

“It was great for the girls, and they gained more confidence in reading and writing English,” Chong said. She said she was thankful for the patience and the support of the instructors and added that she even took the ESOL program for adults several years

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