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Bridging the gap: DPS English Language Learner instructors help non-native English speaking students in the classroom

The Dickinson Public Schools district is hiring -- and qualified candidates with some foreign language skills could be in luck. Among its other open positions, DPS is looking for two more English language learner instructors to aid students for w...

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Press Photo by Andrew Haffner Left, Hanna Rear, center, Cassandra Francis, and Lallaine Hauser sit in Hagen Junior High School. Rear and Hauser are teachers in the district’s ELL program and Francis is the program’s administrator.

The Dickinson Public Schools district is hiring -- and qualified candidates with some foreign language skills could be in luck.

Among its other open positions, DPS is looking for two more English language learner instructors to aid students for whom English is a non-native language.

DPS Assistant Superintendent Vince Reep said the program, which is budgeted for four full-time instructors but is currently staffed with two teachers and two paraprofessionals, has trended with the shifting demographics of a student population he said has “changed greatly in the last five years.”

“Ten years ago, if you walked into a regular education classroom and looked around the room, there were no or very few children of color, or of different nationalities,” Reep said. “But now if you walk into classrooms, we look more diverse.”

That new look also comes with a slightly different sound.

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Cassandra Francis, assistant principal at Hagen Junior High and administrator for the district’s ELL program, said there are about 10 different non-English languages represented in the program, including such tongues as Filipino, Vietnamese and Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia.

Last year, there was even a student who spoke Marshellese, the official language of the Pacific nation of the Marshall Islands.

Out of all those languages, she said dialects of Spanish are “absolutely the most represented,” and make up the first language of about 90 percent of ELL students.

The ELL population typically consists of around 100 district students in varying degrees of involvement. Though students come from all age groups, ELL is more heavily concentrated in K-4 children, Francis said.

Students are scored on their English-language skills when they enter the district to determine the level of support they might require. The program’s goal is to improve language proficiency to the point where students exit its services altogether, Francis said.

Though the number of students entering ELL is lower than it was during the oil boom, Francis said it hasn’t fallen off completely.

“That influx is still happening here, just not quite as heavy as it was,” she said.

Because of the variable ages of the students, ELL teacher Hanna Rear said “there’s never a set schedule” on the job.

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“It depends where your needs are each day,” Rear said, adding a typical day could see her bouncing between Hagen, Prairie Rose Elementary and Dickinson High School.

“It all depends on teacher and student needs.”

Fellow ELL instructor Lallaine Hauser said her routine is much the same as she divides her time between Lincoln, Heart River, Roosevelt and Jefferson elementary schools.

Both Hauser and Rear alternate between assisting students in the classroom as they receive instruction alongside non-ELL classmates and teaching them separately.

Visual cues, translation software and other students help the women bridge the language gap to communicate with their students.

Though they said the job comes with its difficulties, they both found it rewarding.

“It’s challenging, but fun,” Hauser said. “You’re exposed to different cultures and share your own, and you learn from them as they learn from you.”

Related Topics: DICKINSONDICKINSON PUBLIC SCHOOLSEDUCATIONDICKINSON HIGH SCHOOL
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