Diversity of Shore a challenge to ESOL


SALISBURY - Janet Baunhofer never knows quite what to expect from her pupils when it comes to language or literacy.

Some might read well, yet not understand a word she says. Others might read right to left, or know the English alphabet phonetically, a series of sounds that have no meaning.

A 10-year veteran who teaches ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) at two Worcester County elementary schools, Baunhofer spent the better part of the past two weeks with about 50 colleagues at Salisbury State University focusing on ways to better serve the burgeoning immigrant population in Delmarva schools.

The summer institute, sponsored by the university's year-old Bilingual Education Program, offered teachers in-service credit for certification or three credits toward graduate degrees as they worked to develop skills they will take back to the classroom.

"Obviously, the largest number of my students speak Spanish, but I hear Hebrew, Arabic, Korean, Vietnamese, Russian, Albanian, Nigerian kids speaking Ibo. Then there are some I'd never heard of," Baunhofer said.

The teacher's job is complicated by the children's wide range of literacy in their own languages, depending on what countries they come from, she said.

The lure of entry-level jobs, particularly in the poultry industry, continues to draw immigrants from around the globe to the Eastern Shore. An estimated 40,000 Hispanics live on the Delmarva Peninsula, and increasing numbers of Haitian, Korean, Vietnamese and other immigrants arrive each year.

Last year, Wicomico County, the Maryland Shore's most populous at 80,000 residents, enrolled nearly 300 ESOL students who, among them, spoke 19 languages, said Wicomico's ESOL coordinator, Carolyn Elmore.

Ideally, ESOL teachers and administrators say, students would be placed in two-way or dual-language programs where they would be taught in English while maintaining their native language. But small rural school districts have neither the money nor the numbers of any one language group.

Instead, Shore schools rely on "pull-out" programs in which immigrant students spend an hour or two a day with ESOL instructors before returning to classes with English-speaking students.

"Obviously, it's better to teach children to read in the language they speak; all the research tells us that," said Rebecca H. Scarborough, interim director of the bilingual careers program at Salisbury State. "But it's an option for big counties with a large population speaking the same language."

Teachers and administrators in the smaller counties say they need to make sure the curriculum and methods they use in teaching non-English speakers mirror the content that's being covered in mainstream classes.

Robyn Morris, who will begin her second year as an ESOL instructor at Chipman Elementary School in Salisbury, has worked out a second-grade curriculum she hopes will ease the transition for pupils who spend only one period a day with ESOL instructors.

"Dual-language just isn't practical when you may have 10 Hispanic students but another 10 who speak different languages," Morris said. "What this new curriculum will do is to better coordinate what we're doing with what mainstream classroom teachers are doing."

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