Since June, Owensboro Public Schools has added nearly 100 English Language (EL) learners to their population, meaning approximately 8% of the district’s students are multilingual learners. The district has put in measures such as adding EL teachers and using new communication technology to make sure they are meeting the needs of all students.
After a few years of the EL population remaining relatively steady, it rose from 260 for the 2020-21 school year to 319 last year. That number is now up 410.
“That’s not just our refugee students, that’s our immigrant and migrant students as well,” Ashlie Hurley, the district’s EL Student Services Coordinator, told OPS board members during their meeting Thursday evening.
Hurley said this is the first year that OPS has had multilingual learners or English Language learners at every school building in the district.
“This was the first year that we transitioned them to their home schools, which we felt like was a really great decision,” she said. “So we have English Language learners now in their neighborhood schools and not just specific buildings.”
The breakdown of EL students per school is as follows:
Newton Parrish Elementary — 44
Sutton Elementary — 51
Foust Elementary — 78
Estes Elementary — 66
Cravens Elementary — 36
Owensboro Middle — 58
Owensboro Innovation Middle — 4
Owensboro High — 67
Emerson Academy — 1
In addition to all the students currently in the EL program, Hurley said OPS also monitors those who have completed the program for the next 4 years (the length of time in the program varies by student). That extra monitoring accounts for another 100+ students.
“So you’re looking at 500 students that we have to keep a very close eye on in terms of making sure their instructional needs are met,” Hurley said.
Hurley said the most-spoken non-English “home languages” at OPS are Spanish (387 families), Burmese (39), Karen (39), and Swahili (34). There are numerous other languages spoken as well.
“There are different languages all the time,” Hurley said. “We’re learning how to adjust and adapt and meet those needs of those kids.”
Hurley said OPS has two important tools they use to communicate with EL families.
One of them is the Paragon Language Services, which Hurley said isn’t necessarily new but is much more user friendly than it used to be. Teachers can log onto the system, select a language, and instantly be connected to an interpreter.
Hurley said OPS teachers are averaging about five calls per day with the service. She’s been working her way to each school to train them on the program, and that’s directly resulted in an increase in use: there were 256 calls made over the last month, up from 39 the month before.
The other tool is a messaging service called TalkingPoints, and it’s new to OPS. It’s essentially a service that instantly translates messages — so a teacher can send a text in English and it’s translated to the student’s or family’s native language, and vice versa.
Hurley said research shows that texting is the number one way to communicate with families right now, “so this has been a huge tool.”
In the last week alone, approximately 135 messages were sent by teachers plus about two dozen from administrators. More than 200 messages were initiated by families.
“The families finally have a tool so that they can reach out to the teachers if they have a question regarding transportation, regarding homework, lunch, whatever it is,” Hurley said. “They have the option to text, and that’s great.”
Hurley said OPS has also made other efforts to assist their EL students, such as hiring an EL teacher for every building and paying for 10 classroom teachers to get their ESL endorsement. The district also purchased Ellevation, a program management platform that organizes all EL student data reporting, and a tool that Hurley said OPS uses “to help make sure that we are meeting the needs of all of our students.”