Norwich diversity puts focus on bilingual education

Norwich - The picture on the projection screen showed several fourth graders who came to Norwich from countries scattered around the world crouched together on a John B. Stanton classroom carpet, measuring tapes and notebooks in hand.

The math assignment for these Spanish, Haitian and Chinese students called for them to work together and measure the carpet and calculate its perimeter, area and square footage, Stanton School bilingual teacher Jean Maignan explained Monday night to the City Council.

Several teachers and school administrators gave the council a presentation Monday on "The Changing Face of Norwich as seen through our Bilingual Programs,"

Sheila Osko, bilingual education coordinator, said statewide, one in seven students have a dominant language other than English at home. In Norwich, it's one in four students. Also statewide, 5.5 percent of students are English Language Learners. In Norwich 12.5 percent of students are English Language Learners.

Norwich's immigrant population grew rapidly in the past decade as the region's two casinos were expanding and attracting employees from throughout the world. Chinese, Haitian and Hispanic immigrants turned to Norwich for housing in close proximity to casino employee bus routes.

The casinos have since been retracting in size, but Norwich continues to grow in diversity, school officials said. As of Oct. 1, students in the public school system speak 35 different primary languages at home.

State law requires the school system to create a bilingual learning center if a school has 20 or more students speaking a certain foreign language as their primary language. Norwich has Spanish bilingual centers at the John M. Moriarty School, Stanton, which also serves Uncas School students, Kelly Middle School and Teachers Memorial Middle School.

Haitian Creole bilingual centers are at Moriarty and Kelly.

Stanton also currently has 19 Chinese speaking students, meaning school officials are preparing to create a Cantonese Chinese bilingual center there in 2014-15, Osko said.

The bilingual centers also provide services to parents, helping them understand official forms and helping them find and enroll in English language classes, school officials said.

The classes promote multicultural interactions among students and their families. Maignan told of two students in his class who are inseparable, one Chinese and one from the Philippines. Recently, the two arrived at school with matching necklaces. He told them he noticed it.

Except that one wore the necklace saying "Best Friends" and the other wore "Forever."


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