DALLAS – The Dallas School District is now in its fourth year as a “target” district for its English language learner program, a designation that allows the state to offer financial assistance to the district.

Dallas was assigned as a target district based on an evaluation the state conducted on the program and its success.

The district’s program is small, serving less than 50 students, who speak Spanish, Russian, Cantonese or Arabic as their first languages. The district receives about $90,000 per year to run the ELL program.

Teri Hethorne, the program manager, said most students are at the elementary level, in classes at Lyle and Whitworth elementary schools. She works with 33 students elementary, while the high school has a group of five. She said 10 student who qualify for services opted out.

“The bulk of our kids are exiting the program by the end of fifth grade,” Hethorne said.

To graduate from the program, a student must pass an English skills test.

Last year, 10 students passed the test.

The money from the state allows Hethorne to purchase ELL curriculum and provide training to classroom teachers to encourage students to learn English even in a regular classroom setting.

Hethorne said her students speak English nearly the entire time she works with them, but getting them to talk in their home classrooms still is a challenge. The training for teachers provides strategies for skill building and speaking that benefit the whole class, not just those learning English.

“The big reason there is so much professional development is, I have the kids for a half hour four days per week. They are in a classroom the rest of the time. So the more information I can get to classroom teachers and the more strategies I can help classroom teachers with, I think that is a better way to spend the money,” Hethorne said. “It’s getting the kids talking more, because if they can’t say it, they can’t write it. In order to be good writers, they have to be good speakers.”

Hethorne also monitors the 30 students who have graduated from the program and still attend Dallas schools. She checks in on those students three times a year around the time grade progress reports are given out.

“I can check grades, so if I see they are doing really well in some classes and maybe really poorly in another,” she said. “I can touch base with the teacher just make sure it’s not a language issue.”

This may be the last year Dallas is on the program, though the state may grant the district a fifth year.

 “Hopefully, we’ve made some progress,” Hethorne said. “I can’t tell you if we’ll be out of the club yet.”

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