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South Middleton Schools

South Middleton School District plans to double its number of English Language Learner teachers

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An influx of Bhutanese refugees is prompting the South Middleton School District to double its number of English Language Learner teachers in the lead-up to the start of the new school year.

The school board Monday gave Superintendent James Estep the go-ahead to advertise two ELL teacher positions to reinforce the two positions already hired and included in the budget for 2022-23.

The board could formalize the two new positions at its next meeting scheduled for Aug. 15. Estep said he wanted an early start on posting the openings to head off the anticipated demand.

“We have jumped from 55 [ELL] students at the beginning of summer to 82 students,” he told board members Monday. “That number is expected to climb substantially further. We are seeing a tremendous influx of students from Nepal moving into the district.”

Bhutan and Nepal are nations in south Asia within the Himalayan mountain range. Refugees from Bhutan were displaced by ethnic cleansing to camps in Nepal, said Truong Phuong, executive director of the International Service Center in Harrisburg.

With help from assistance programs, the first wave of Bhutanese refugees emigrated to the U.S. about 10 years ago and found that the Harrisburg area offered good jobs and the opportunity to eventually establish their own businesses, Phuong said. The Bhutanese set up a support network and a strong community within south-central Pennsylvania, he said.

Over the years, friends and relatives have encouraged other families to resettle from the refugee camps to the Harrisburg area, Phuong said. It appears that trend is catching on in South Middleton Township.

“It’s happening as parents are enrolling their kids and talking to my staff,” Estep said. Families are telling district personnel that more Bhutanese refugees plan to move into the township, he said.

Word is they are landing jobs at one of the local distribution centers, Estep said.

As of Tuesday, one-third to three-quarters of the 82 ELL students are Bhutanese refugees speaking the Nepali language, Estep said. The next largest group is Spanish speaking students.

There are 19 ELL students registered for the W.G. Rice Elementary School, 28 students for the Iron Forge Elementary School, 12 students for Yellow Breeches Middle School and 23 students for Boiling Springs High School, Estep said. The additional positions would allow for one ELL teacher to be stationed at each school building, he said.

The number of ELL students in the district could easily top 100 within the first couple months of the school year, Estep said. “Knowing how many instructional hours these students are required to receive it’s probably in our best interests to be proactive and fill two more positions.”

But neither position is included in the district budget for 2022-23. Estep said one position could be paid for using money allocated for a fifth grade teacher position that will not be filled. About one-third of the salary of the second position could be offset by federal funds, he said.

“There are compliance issues we have to contend with to meet our Title III guidelines,” Estep said, referring to the federal requirement to provide English language instruction.

“Obviously, we are morally and ethically responsible for making sure that we are providing opportunities for these students to be successful,” he said.

The amount of time needed to help each ELL student depends on his or her command of the English language at the time they are enrolled.

There was no objection among board members to put the two more ELL teacher positions on the agenda for the Aug. 15 meeting. Nor did board members object to the suggestion by Estep to go ahead and advertise the positions before formal approval.

“I can get the process started,” Estep said, adding that the closer the district gets to the start of the academic year, the harder it’s going to be to find qualified applicants.

Joseph Cress is a reporter for The Sentinel covering education and history. You can reach him at jcress@cumberlink.com or by calling 717-218-0022.

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