Spanish-speaking students

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 26, 2000

remain few, for now


Managing Editor

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An influx of Spanish-speaking people into Alabama has begun to change the face of education in the state, and though Troy and Pike County haven’t made dramatic changes, some adjustments have been necessary.

Pike County Superintendent of Education Dr. John Key said his school system currently serves four students who speak English as their secondary language and Spanish as their primary language.

"That isn’t a lot, and it hasn’t forced us to add funded positions in order to meet the demand," Key said. "We have students from Troy State come in and assist us with the needs of these students."

Though dramatic change has not yet been necessary, Key says he is anticipating continued increases in students who speak English as their second language and is putting together plans to deal with the situation.

"We have submitted our plan for how we intend to handle these students as we are required to do under the law," Key said. "But we have not yet found it necessary to add positions for Spanish-speaking teachers."

Key said the four students in the school system come from South America, and he said all of them have been in the school system for several years.

But as the general population of Spanish-speaking adults rises, so does the number of Spanish-speaking students.

"I wouldn’t say that we are projecting an increase with any hard number, but we do expect to see growth in a segment of the population that speaks English as a second language," he said.

As for future plans, Key hopes to save the school system money by continuing to utilize Troy State University students to assist the students in their education.

But other area schools have felt a need to implement programs to cope with an increase in Spanish-speaking students.

The Bullock County School System has implemented an English as a Second Language Program, which adds expense to the school system’s budget to meet the needs of its non-English speaking segment of students, which remains relatively small.

"We only have four Spanish-speaking in the system, but we felt that this was something we needed to address," said Lee Ballard, assistant superintendent of education for Bullock County. "We are seeing dramatic increases in the number of adults who speak Spanish in the area, and when you see adults, you know it won’t be long until the school system sees the kids from this background."

The ESL program means the school system to teach Spanish-speaking students through its local budget, but in subsequent years, based on need, the school could qualify for state funds to defray some of the expense.

Ballard says the reason for the increase in Bullock County seeks to center on the poultry industry, and Wayne Farms of Union Springs, which is one of the leading employers in the area.

Ballard said beyond the relatively minor increase in enrollment of Spanish-speaking students in the last year, when the school system went from none to four, there has been a dramatic increase in adult Spanish-speaking residents.

An adult education course offered to Spanish-speaking people in Union Springs has had phenomenal success as many people have enrolled in it to learn more about the English language and the American culture.

"We began the adult education program which is a class that meets at night, and I was very surprised to see the number of people enrolled," Ballard said. "It was amazing to me."

The program teaches people who don’t speak English as their primary language many necessary skills and continually works on getting adult students prepared to take the Graduate Equivalency Degree test.

"It has been very successful," Ballard said.

Also spurred by growth in poultry-related industries, Pike County is, according to many people, expected to see an increase in Spanish-speaking residents in the coming years. Additionally Carter Brothers, a go-cart manufacturer in Brundidge, has hired numerous employees who don’t speak English as their primary language.

The hiring trends are consistent with unemployment scores which show Pike County in the mid-single digits. Continued growth in manufacturing and agriculture without an available workforce means that employees will have to come from elsewhere, and when that happens, schools will find it necessary to accommodate the students who don’t speak English as their primary language as well.