Monday, October 01, 2007

Fostering cultural diversity

Teachers reach out to English language learner population in county schools

by Natalie McGill | Staff Writer
September 20, 2007

Responding to an increase in English-language learners, Central High School in Capitol Heights has been designated a future site for Communities of Practice: Supporting English Language Learners or COSPELL, a program which allows county teachers the chance to earn a master’s degree with an emphasis on bilingual special education.

A K-12 initiative, COSPELL is run through George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development Bilingual Special Education Program.

County schools and the state Department of Education provided $250,000 and $1.5 million for the program respectively.

Eighteen teachers selected from northern, southern and central county regions will get the chance to earn a full $45,000 scholarship to earn their master’s degrees in two and a half years. Selected teachers will take evening classes at Central, such as cultural and language diversity, assessments and methods classes on teaching students with different language needs.

Dr. Cathleen Rozanski, Central’s assistant principal, is the school’s liaison with George Washington University. Rozanski said that even with county schools adding additional English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programs, the number of ESOL students continues to rise and the number of county teachers must also rise to meet students’ needs.

The number of Hispanic students is rising in particular, and teachers will focus on reaching out to that population.

Rozanski said there are nearly 200 students in ESOL at Central High School, whose student body is more than 1,200. Rozanski said the Hispanic population is the fastest growing ESOL population in the school and also countywide.

‘‘The English-language learners, the special education population, that’s generally the students where we don’t meet AYP,” Rozanski said. ‘‘It’s not just a Central High School issue, that’s countywide — making sure there’s qualified teachers to help students that are struggling to get their high school diploma.”

Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, is the benchmark percentage set by the state Department of Education that a student body must reach to be considered proficient or better in mathematics and reading.

Kate Conrad, an English and drama teacher at Central, applied for the program after learning about it before the start of classes Aug. 20. Conrad hopes to become a better teacher and be available to general education, special education and ESOL students in the same way. Conrad wants to bridge gaps between the student populations.

‘‘It seems they’re in three different worlds,” Conrad said. ‘‘Figuring out a way to bridge all those areas and work our school as a community rather than three separate areas, I’d love to figure out a way to do that.”

Helena Hartsfield, Central’s English teaching coordinator, also applied for the program. Hartsfield said there has always been a need for bilingual educators at Central. If selected, she and other participants are required to stay in the Prince George’s County school system for two more years.

"It would definitely make me more marketable because there’s a need for certified teachers,” Hartsfield said.

Bill Hanna, a University of Maryland College Park professor who teaches classes on urban planning, is also executive secretary of ACTION Langley Park, a community group working to address needs of the mostly Latino community in the surrounding area to the university.

Hanna applauds any program that will address bilingual needs of ESOL students and also work toward mainstreaming special education students.

‘‘There aren’t a lot of people who are bilingual in the school system,” Hanna said. ‘‘Even in Langley Park-McCormick [Elementary], there are few teachers that are bilingual. They try to solve that problem as having a parent liaison, but I’m not sure if that’s the same as having the teacher.”

E-mail Natalie McGill at

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