Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Sept. 25, 2000

LP school builds ESL program

By Jane Otto

In hiring an English as a second language (ESL) teacher, the Lester Prairie school district took the first step in assimilating and addressing the needs of its Hispanic residents.

ESL teacher Carsten Bjornstad briefed the school board on the program at its meeting last Monday.

Presently, Bjornstad has six high students and six elementary students with a possibility of three more.

Five of the six of high school students, Bjornstad said, had come from other schools with ESL programs and he was amazed that they had such little knowledge of English.

He pointed out that the elementary students "don't have as many hang-ups as the older students and come to the class with less inhibitions."

"It's a matter of working with them and encouraging them," Bjornstad said in relation to the high school students.

A stumbling block to improving their proficiency in English said Bjornstad, is that for most of these students English is not spoken in the home.

Board chair Chester Hoernemann ask if he has been in contact with the parents.

Bjornstad said yes, and that eight have responded. Bjornstad teaches ESL to adults as part of the community education program.

He explained that it's difficult for these students to perform at grade level when they can't read in English. Bjornstad emphasized that they all can read in Spanish.

"Its not a reading problem; it's a language problem," he said.

Bjornstad said that he has met with the staff and asked that not much pressure be put on the students at this point

"We can't expect much, at this time," Bjornstad said. "We've got to address the problem before we can make demands. My impression is that they want to learn. To make an expectation that they possibly can't meet is wrong. Maybe after Christmas we can tighten the screws."

His goal for the ESL class is to have the students on a certain level of proficiency by Christmas.

"My concern is that these kids don't fall through the cracks," Hoernemann said.

The discussion touched briefly on the industrial arts class. Bjornstad said he had spoken with the technical education instructor, Joe Scoblic.

In Scoblic's class, students need to understand the safety procedures regarding the equipment before they can use it. Bjornstad said the problem is that the safety manual is in English.

Hoernemann questioned if there are resources available to get the manual translated.

Board member Fred Blaser said that most manuals are usually multilingual.

This is a new program for the school with a few wrinkles to be iron out, Supt. James Redfield said.

As the size and success of the programs grows, having manuals translated into Spanish would be something to consider, the board agreed.

"These things won't come quickly," Elementary Principal Richard Hartshorn commented.

Hartshorn said that he and his wife had adopted a boy whose native tongue was not English. He said his progress involved a lot of work throughout several years.

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