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State talks up English as a 2nd language

| Sunday, Aug. 25, 2002

Hola, konichiwa, nazdar, bonjour and szia.

These are some of the ways students may be greeted when they return to school this year, and it might not just be from foreign exchange students or foreign language teachers.

In many Valley school districts, where Pittsburgese is sometimes the dominant language, there are households where children don't speak English or enough English to allow them to keep up in the classroom.

To help them achieve, the state Department of Education, following a federal mandate, is forcing school districts to have a plan.

The mandate was introduced last school year, but it will be closely monitored this year, said Ana Saing de la Pena, English as a second language bilingual education adviser for the department.

"In the past, some of the school districts would fall through the cracks," she said.

Pena said the goal of the English as a second language program is not only for children to learn English but to become academically proficient.

Programs vary with districts

Pena said the programs will vary greatly from district to district depending on need.

"You need to look at your population and based on the need, you design a program," she said.

Many districts, such as Fox Chapel Area, and Highlands, have had students with limited English proficiency for several years. These districts already have solid programs in place.

Others, including Apollo-Ridge, and New Kensington-Arnold, rarely deal with the situation.

"Since I've been here, I don't think so," Apollo-Ridge Superintendent Michael Vranesevic said of having a student with limited English proficiency. He's been with the district for about 3½ years.

Even though most Apollo-Ridge students probably won't have much trouble understanding one another, the district will be prepared this year should the need arise.

"You never know when someone could move into the district,"

Vranesevic said.

Freeport Area and Allegheny Valley school districts will start without any students who will need English as a second language instruction.

But districts are preparing programs.

Stan Chapp, Freeport Area assistant superintendent and program director, said the district will implement a program put together by the ARIN Intermediate Unit.

Allegheny Valley Assistant Superintendent Gabriel Ziccarelli said the district has purchased reading, writing and oral communication assessment materials. "These tools will allow us to get a start," he said.

On the other end of the spectrum, Fox Chapel Area School District is used to having students with limited English proficiency.

Bonnie Berzonski, Fox Chapel Area coordinator of communication, said last year the district had

40 such students who needed some sort of instruction in English as a second language.

She said the district spent about $160,000 to provide that help for the students. Although it's a mandate, school districts don't receive any money from the state or federal government.

Fox Chapel Area is far from having the most students in Allegheny County who need English as a second language instruction.

Jennifer Beagan, K-12 English as a second language supervisor for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, said the Baldwin-Whitehall School district will have 140 such students this year.

Highlands will start the school year with two students who speak German, one who speaks Vietnamese, another Pakistani and one Kenyan.

The district will spend about $44,500 for the program, said Debbie Layhew, the district's director of special education.

She said that is thousands more than the district spent last year, but she didn't have the exact figure.

In order to identify students who may need the program, some districts send surveys to households.

Plum is one such district. Spokeswoman Dawn Check said she doesn't know how many students in the district will need English as a second language. She said the district recently had 11 students who needed some instruction and it cost about $23,000.

Riverview, Armstrong and Deer Lakes are three other local districts that will have children who will need English as a second language.

Riverview Superintendent Charles Erdeljac said the district has two children who need English as a second language. Both are from Chile.

Erdeljac said the program will cost the district about $14,000.

"Often times these youngsters know some English," Erdeljac said. But he said it is crucial for them to become proficient in English so they're not left behind in their studies.

Barbara Tomlinson, director of special education for Deer Lakes School District, said the district has had few English second- language students in the recent past, but this year the district will have two from Macedonia. They speak Albanian, she said.

"We need to develop a program in-house to meet the needs," she said.

"I think we need to be more proactive looking for people in the community who speak different languages to help these students," she said.

She said these individuals could help act as mediators between the district and students.

Armstrong School District Superintendent Bill Kerr said although the district is very large, only one student will need the program. "In recent years we have had no more than three students at any given time," he said.

But he said the district will have everything in place in case it receives an influx of children.

Except for Allegheny Valley, which has its own program, once English second-language students are identified, most districts hire teachers through intermediate units.

Beagan said the Allegheny Intermediate Unit has 50 teachers at more than 100 buildings in

30 districts across Allegheny County.

The teachers don't need to know the language the student speaks. "We do not use a bilingual method," Beagan said.

During the past four years, she said the program has grown tremendously. Last school year there were 550 children in county school districts who needed some sort of second-language curriculum, she said. That's about 50 more from the year before, Beagan said.

The intermediate unit has also had to add 13 staff members. Beagan attributes the expansion of the program to the fact that more children are being recognized.

"They have to make sure they have the provisions," Beagan said of the school districts.

Kiski Area, Burrell, Leechburg Area and South Butler School District did not return calls for comment.

In the Valley


Here is a list of local school districts and how many children each will have in the English as a second language program, along with those students' nationality and/or language.

º Allegheny Valley: 0.

º Apollo-Ridge: 0.

º Armstrong School District: 1, Spanish.

º Burrell: NA

º Deer Lakes: 2, Macedonian children who speak Albanian

º Fox Chapel Area: 40 in the 2001-02 school year

º Freeport Area: 0.

º Highlands: 5; 2 German,

1 Vietnamese, 1 Pakistani, and 1 Kenyan.

º Kiski Area: NA.

º Leechburg Area: NA.

º New Kensington-Arnold: 0.

º Plum: NA

º Riverview: 2 Chileans,

both speak Spanish.

º South Butler: NA.

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