INside Story

IPS responds to increase in English language learners

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The number of students learning the English language in Indiana is growing and schools are feeling the impact.

This week, News 8’s Camila Fernandez is taking a deep dive into dual-language education and how some schools in Indianapolis are meeting their students’ cultural and linguistic needs.

Across Indiana, there are nearly 78,000 students called English learners who receive lessons in both English and Spanish. The number of English learners in Indiana schools has increased by almost 27,000 from six years ago.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indianapolis Public Schools is seeing a rise in its student population of English learners, and some schools are working to meet their specific needs.

At Meredith Nicholson School 96, teachers are coming up with ideas to assure students can thrive at home and in the classrooms.

Almost every day, Colleen Turner, the English as a New Language (ENL) teacher at Meredith Nicholson School 96, works to help English learners feel welcome. She says some come from other countries without having any primary education.

“In the long term, I get to see kids who are coming here with no English, and then, down the road, I get to see them graduate from high school, going on to college,” Turner said.

Indianapolis Public Schools has about 5,700 English learners, which is about 800 students more than in 2017. There are more than 30,000 students in the Indianapolis school system. According to the Indiana Department of Education, at Meredith Nicholson, about 70% of its students are English learners, and teachers at the school are feeling the impact.

“We have to adjust. We have to do a lot of background and find out where they’re at, and we kind of meet them where they’re at, so we start with a lot of foundational reading skills with a lot of our students. You know, we often help them learn how to read in English and Spanish,” Turner said.

The school has a family liaison that’s bilingual and an English language learners department with four teachers and three bilingual assistants. LaShonda Huff is the principal; Huff says the pandemic made them rethink how they serve their students.

“We went out to homes and made sure that students had their technology devices and made sure that, if they had little to no connectivity with internet, we went out and provided them with the district-approved MiFi,” a brand of wireless routers that create mobile Wi-Fi hotspots, Huff said.

Ana Garcia Merchanth’s son is a fourth-grader. She says his teachers helped him improve his English language skills.

“There’s a teacher Colombo who helped my son a lot and another teacher who would talk with him via video call when we were at home and that’s helped him a lot,” Merchanth said.

IPS says it receives about $3 million of state and federal funding each year to support English learners. They also have a family and community engagement liaison that supports Spanish-speaking families.

Jessica Dunn, the executive director of enrichment programs at Indianapolis Public Schools, said, “Our ENL face liaisons — those are a direct addition based on feedback that we’ve heard from families and communities about wanting additional support on how to navigate just Indianapolis and the community as a whole (and) how to get them in touch with resources that they might need.”

The school district says it hopes to see more resources for students in the future.

Part 3