ELL students in Pearl River County

Published 7:00 am Saturday, July 7, 2018

According to a release by the Mississippi Department of Education, the number of English Language Learners is slowly on the rise across the state.

An article by the National Council of Teachers of English describes an ELL student as, “an active learner of the English language who may benefit from various types of language support programs.”

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In other words, ELL students are those who do not speak English as a first language. That means many students who are learning English as their second language may face additional struggles in school because of the barrier, and may need specialized instruction.

“Spanish is the most prevalent language spoken by English learners in Mississippi, but more than 20 other languages are also represented. After Spanish, the most common languages spoken by English Learner students in Mississippi are Arabic, Vietnamese, Chinese and Gujarati,” the MDE release states.

Picayune School District Assistant Superintendent Brent Harrell said that the number of ELL students in the Picayune district is slowly increasing. Now, he said there are approximately 45 ELL students across the district. Harrell said there are ELL students of all ages, but most are in elementary school.

To meet the special of ELL students, Harrell said the district employs one teacher at Nicholson Elementary who predominately teaches language acquisition. He said that teacher has been on staff for many years, and there has not been a need to hire new ELL teachers, even though the number has been going up.

In the Pearl River County School District, there has been a significant increase in ELL students over the past year, Assistant Superintendent Missy Holston said. There are now 26 ELL students in the District, with 16 of them being in elementary school. She said while they usually have children come in with some prior understanding of English, this year students have arrived with no background in the language.

To address this sudden increase in ELL students, Holston said the District hired a part-time tutor who will travel to the various campuses to help students with their language acquisition needs. She said she will help students in and out of the classroom as the need arises. If the number of ELL students continues to rise, the Board of Trustees will likely hire a full-time teacher to help.

Holston said the majority of the ELL students speak Spanish as their first language. If the district eventually hires a full-time teacher, that person would likely be fluent in Spanish. While some of the students speak Vietnamese as their first language, most of those students are fluent in English when compared to others.

According to the NCTE article, more than half of ELL students across the country were born in the U.S., while about 43 percent were born abroad. ELLs are 21 percent less likely to complete high school in comparison to native students.

Because these students often face heightened academic struggles, MDE stated in its release that it will be taking extra steps to ensure these students are given proper instruction.

“English learner progress will be factored into the calculation of accountability results for the 2017-2018 school year to identify schools in need of improvement. English learner progress will be part of official grades for Mississippi schools and districts starting in 2018-19,” the release states.