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Charlottesville Teachers Working to Accommodate More ESL Students

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Speak! Language Center Speak! Language Center
Gwendolyn Page, an English teacher at CHS Gwendolyn Page, an English teacher at CHS

Some Charlottesville teachers are working extra hard to accommodate a growing number of students that speak English as a second language. 

One teacher won a grant for 20 of her colleagues to take a Spanish course in spring of 2016. The Spanish instructor teaching the course is actually an educator herself. That has helped focus the lessons on words and phrases teachers would need to know.  

Gwendolyn Page teaches English at Charlottesville High School, however in the evening she is a student.

“It's really powerful to once again be a student, in order to be a better teacher,” said Page.

Page is one of 20 Charlottesville teachers and staff members taking Spanish classes at Speak! Language Center.

“An even greater lesson that it's teaching is empathy, because so often we forget what it's like to be struggling with a language,” said Page.

In 2016, 10 percent of Charlottesville students are in the English as a Second Language Program, or ESL. Those ESL families speak 36 different languages.

“Across the board, through the IRC, we just have a lot more refugee families in the city schools,” said Jessica Bossler, a kindergarten teacher at Burnley-Moran Elementary School.

An increasing number of students speak Spanish.

“Our Hispanic population here in Charlottesville is growing exponentially,” said Sara Moses, a Spanish instructor.

Currently only about 4 percent of staff at Charlottesville City Schools speak fluent Spanish.

“I think a lot of parents are a little intimidated sometimes to come to school, because there's that communication sort of barrier,” said Bossler.

This class is due in part to Renata Germino, an ESL instructor and State Department Fellow for Teachers for Global Understanding. Germino won a grant for 20 people to take the course, and 68 people ended up applying to take the class.

“Hopefully the state will reissue that grant each season, so that the students can continue onto the next level,” said Moses.

Speak! Language Center has grown according to the demand in Charlottesville. The owner says she never expected to teach English classes at the center, but now they do with refugees and immigrants from all over the world.