Stretching thin: staff needed for ESOL students

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF)- With the growing student population in Horry County, local schools are seeing an increase in the number of students without the basic skills needed to succeed.

Reading, writing, and arithmetic; those basic fundamentals are a lot harder to understand when they are not taught in your native language. English for speakers of other languages, or ESOL, has grown by 400 percent over the last few years.

However, the number of teachers has stayed relatively the same.

Melissa Schamel is the ESOL and Foreign Language Learning Specialist with Horry County Schools. She recognized the need for more ESOL teachers and began to compile facts and figures on the issue. Earlier this year, she presented her findings to the county school board.

She walked the board back to 2007 and 2008, when there were 37,200 students in Horry County Schools, including 901 ESOL learners.

At that time, the teacher to student ratio was 1 to 35.

By 2013, the school district's overall student population reached 39,754 with 3,174 ESOL students. During that school year, there was a slight increase in teachers, but the ratio increased to 1 teacher for every 107 students, way above the state recommended ratio.

The growth isn't slowing down.

Leading into the 2014 school year, Schamel discovered of the 42,181 students entering into Horry County Schools, 3,856 of them are ESOL learners.

The teacher to student ratio hit an alarming 1 to 117.

The largest increase in ESOL student populations are seen in Myrtle Beach schools:

1. Myrtle Beach Middle School

2. Myrtle Beach Primary School

3. Myrtle Beach Elementary School

4. Socastee Elementary School

5. Myrtle Beach Intermediate School

6. Myrtle Beach High School

7. Forestbrook Middle School

8. Socastee High School

9. Carolina Forest High School

Aynor and Green Sea seem to have the lowest population within the district.

New this year, are full-time teachers in both Socastee High School and Carolina Forest High School. Schamel hopes to get new teachers into North Myrtle Beach High School next year, as well. She explained many schools are sharing teachers, adding to the stress of their workload.

Also new this year, kindergarten ESOL students at Myrtle Beach Primary are being integrated into common classes. Teachers explained younger students can quickly learn a new language. The students' progress is monitored, and if need be, will be put into special ESOL classes.

"We give a language test in the beginning of the year to see where they are low, if their English is limited, we pull them out," explained Ann Pond, an ESOL teacher with Myrtle Beach Primary.

When Pond first started there were 42 students in kindergarten and first grade. Now, there are 249.

"We have a high Russian population, Vietnamese; we have Chinese, we have Arabic students," shared Pond.

Teachers believe there are about 42 different languages spoken by students in Horry County.

Joe DeFeo, the Horry County School Board Chairman, explained federal law requires resources in each school to teach those students, even if they don't speak English.

As ESOL classes are becoming more and more necessary for the school district, DeFeo suggested the Federal Government should be responsible for footing the bill for additional teachers.

The school board does plan to hire ESOL staff for next year.

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