- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2005

The number of non-English-speaking kindergartners in Montgomery County has increased by 62 percent since 2001, top county school officials said yesterday.

Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of the county public schools, said the number of students not speaking English increased from 1,207 in the 2001-02 school year to 1,954 in the 2003-04 school year. He said he expects more non-English-speaking students to enter the school system in coming years.

“We are going to be facing more kids that do not speak English,” said Mr. Weast, who yesterday urged the federal government to increase funding for education.

Since the 2000-01 school year, the county has spent $67 million to improve education for immigrant and low-income children. That money has funded class size reduction, teacher hiring and training and all-day kindergarten.

The county has spent $1,960 for each of the more than 30,000 students who need extra attention. Of that amount, the federal government has paid $571, while the county has funded the remaining $1,389, Mr. Weast said.

Mr. Weast made his comments at a press conference at New Hampshire Estates Elementary School in Silver Spring, where 60 percent of students are Hispanic. Most of the students come from El Salvador or Mexico.

About half of the students who arrive at the school cannot speak English, Mr. Weast said.

Out of the county’s estimated 140,000 students, 12,000 are in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses. Brian Edwards, a county schools spokesman, said that number grows by about 1,000 each year.

Despite that challenge, the county’s reading achievement continues to rise.

Mr. Weast said more than 71 percent of all county students in kindergarten through second grade are reading at or above grade level.

Hispanic and black students made the biggest improvements in the past three years, test scores show. Scores for white and Asian-American students are still ahead of those for Hispanic and black students.

In 2001, 39 percent of kindergartners met local and state benchmarks. Last year, that number had risen to 71 percent. Also last year, 78 percent of third-graders met reading standards, up from 70 percent in 2003, test scores show.

Mr. Weast credited New Hampshire Estates Principal Jane Litchko’s work with immigrant parents.

The school hosts monthly family learning nights for parents, some of whom are illiterate. Teachers show the parents how to talk to their children about books by taking them through picture books. “We show them how a book works,” Mrs. Litchko said.

Ludim Flores, 27, who has two children at New Hampshire Estates and a 3-year-old in the school’s Head Start program, said she is happy that her children are being taught to speak English fluently. Mrs. Flores does not speak English fluently.

“If you can speak English, there are many doors open to their future,” she said through an interpreter. “I want them to go to universities, become professionals and to be good citizens.”

Mrs. Flores and her husband, who works in construction, migrated to the United States from Mexico seven years ago.

The rate of growth of non-English speakers in the United States has far outstripped the growth of the general population since 1990, statistics compiled by the Census Bureau show.

Non-English speakers accounted for 2.7 percent of the U.S. population in 1990 and 3.9 percent in 2000.

The Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area has seen its population of residents who speak English “not well” or “not at all” increase by 81 percent, from 117,702 in 1990 to 213,260 in 2000, statistics show.

Non-English speakers made up 2.2 percent of the Baltimore-Washington area’s estimated 5.25 million residents in 1990 and 3.5 percent of the area’s nearly 6 million residents in 2000.

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