July 16, 2008

La Crosse School District Closing Newcomers Centers As Students Assimilate

By Autumn Grooms, La Crosse Tribune, Wis.

Jul. 16--There's social English and then there's content English.

And when you're a Hmong refugee with no knowledge of the language, learning either can be a nightmare. That's why the La Crosse School District developed newcomer programs four years ago to accommodate an influx of Hmong refugees into the community from a camp in Thailand that had closed.

Centers opened at the elementary and middle school level during the 2004-05 school year to help an anticipated 80 to 120 children. The next year, the program was offered at the high school level.

"The school district and board was very supportive and provided an appropriate education environment for these kids," said Rob Tyvoll, the district's English Language Learner coordinator.

The children knew no English and were unfamiliar with American customs when they arrived, but through the program, were able to adjust to life in La Crosse and eventually transition into mainstream ELL programs in their home schools, Tyvoll said.

Twenty students graduated from the program and entered mainstream classes with English support at the end of the school year, prompting the school district to close the centers at Franklin Elementary and Lincoln Middle School. For the 2008-09 school year, the only remaining newcomer program will be at Central High School, and it is anticipated about 25 students will graduate with the class of 2009.

Tyvoll said the Central program likely will be eliminated in the 2009-10 school year, as few students will be left and they can be served with regular ELL services.

"I have been very pleased with the success of the program," he said.

La Crosse schools didn't have a newcomers class before the refugees arrived, but through working with the school board, city and Hmong Mutual Assistance Association, it was deemed the best way to serve the youth, Tyvoll said.

"I think this has been a valuable learning experience for the school district and the staff," Tyvoll said. "It is

certainly possible that it could happen again where a group of people from (somewhere) around the world relocate here because of something.

"It is also possible local industry could draw people who speak a different language," he said. "It has happened around the state."

Tyvoll said about 550 students will be in La Crosse's ELL program this school year, which is about 50 fewer than 2007-08. The decline is attributed to kids testing out of the program, he said.


Languages represented among active English Language Learner program students:

Spanish 15

Bulgarian 3

Mandarin 5

Russian 2

Urdu (India) 2

Lao 3

Tagalog (Filipino) 1

Arabic 4

Vietnamese 4

Hmong 514

Total 553

Class size

Newcomer class size in the La Crosse School District:

Emerson Elementary School

Spring 2005 5

Spring 2006 7

Franklin Elementary School

Spring 2006 21

Spring 2007 28

Spring 2008 11

Northwoods Elementary School

Spring 2005 32

Lincoln Middle School

Spring 2005 24

Spring 2006 18

Spring 2007 16

Spring 2008 10

Central High School

Spring 2006 21

Spring 2007 34

Spring 2008 29

District total

Spring 2005 61

Spring 2006 67

Spring 2007 78

Spring 2008 50

Source: La Crosse School District

Autumn Grooms can be reached at (608) 791-8424 or [email protected]


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