Norwich student immigrant population keeps rising

Norwich — The city school system is seeing an increase of immigrant students, with 578 students who speak 25 different native languages, and Spanish-speaking students comprising more than half that total.

Sheila Osko, director of languages and transition services, on Tuesday gave a presentation to the Board of Education on Oct. 1 figures showing that Norwich public schools had 566 immigrant students needing English language assistance, a breakdown by language and grade level and the number of teachers in the district devoted to so-called English language learners. The state requires an official count as of Oct. 1.

Since the beginning of the month, the total has jumped to 578, not including nine newly arrived students not yet enrolled in school and who are being evaluated for their language proficiency and medical records. Even though Norwich overall enrollment is stable, Osko said, the number of English language learners is rising.

The Oct. 1 total is 42 students higher than last year's total of 524 for the same time period, and did not include the 59 students who became proficient enough in English to “exit” out of English language assistance programs into regular classes, Osko said.

“We have new ones coming in all the time,” she said Tuesday.

She said many immigrant families come to Norwich because they have relatives or friends here. Some already have found jobs here.

The younger students, Osko said, tend to have lower levels of English language skills. Research shows it takes seven to nine years for students to become academically proficient in English, though less time to develop “social language” skills.

Only one new Haitian family with one student has told school officials that they immigrated to Norwich because of the recent damage by Hurricane Matthew, Osko said. The family knew someone living in Norwich.

The school system also has one new Syrian refugee student, a 13-year-old Arabic and Turkish speaker, Osko said.

The school system has 111 Haitian Creole speakers in the English learners program, up from 102 last year. The school system saw an influx of families and relatives following the devastating January 2010 earthquake. Superintendent Abby Dolliver said she expects to see more Haitian students arriving because of the hurricane damage.

While the statistics show the number of Haitian Creole speakers needing English language assistance, the state does not include “Haitian” in its list of ethnic categories to calculate minority enrollment totals — an omission that upsets many Haitian families, Dolliver said. Haitians are included as “black” in the state's statistics.

Norwich is seeing an influx of Puerto Rican students whose families have moved to Norwich because of the economic upheaval gripping the U.S. territory. They are included among the 296 Spanish speakers throughout the district, Osko said.

All city schools, except the Uncas and Veterans' Memorial elementary schools are considered bilingual schools for Spanish language speakers, Osko said. She said bilingual education consists of both separate classes and teachers and para-educators who enter regular classrooms to assist students.

Norwich has seven full-time and three part-time teachers certified either as bilingual teachers or as “Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages” — TESOL — at least one in each city school. Two full-time bilingual Spanish teachers are at the John B. Stanton School, which has 50 Spanish English language learners, the highest among city elementary schools.

Stanton also has the highest percentage of English language learners per total school population — 26 percent of the Oct. 1 enrollment of 331 students.

No Norwich school has a state-defined racial imbalance. The state considers a school out of balance if the percentage of “non-white” students is greater or less than 25 percent of the district average in those grades. The Samuel Huntington School comes closest, with a 53.7 percent non-white population. The elementary school average is 69.2 percent, an imbalance of 15.5 percent.

Overall, Norwich public schools have a minority enrollment of 68.3 percent, ranging from Huntington's 53.7 percent to the 77.7 percent minority enrollment at Uncas School.

c.bessette@theday.com

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