MOUNT PLEASANT, Iowa — Iowa school districts are continuously working to communicate with parents and students whose native language is not English.

The number of Iowa students participating in English Language Learner programs has more than doubled since 2000, with more than 25,000 enrolled in the state’s public and nonpublic schools during the 2013-14 school year, The Hawk Eye (http://bit.ly/2bV8rd7 ) reports.

Jobi Lawrence with the Iowa Department of Education says the number is now closer to 29,000 in public and private schools.

The Des Moines School District has more than 100 languages and dialects spoken by its students. Thirty-six languages and dialects are spoken by students in Iowa City schools.

Lawrence says even though it’s a challenge for school districts to ensure that content is understood, it creates opportunities to have bilingual students and parents in their communities.

Lawrence says districts use translation services and staff interpreters to communicate.

Columbus School District superintendent Gary Benda said it’s not only more difficult to educate a student whose native language isn’t English, it’s also more expensive. Columbus is under state monitoring because its expenditures exceed its income. The school district receives a stipend of an additional 0.2 percent per student, but Benda said it’s not enough.

“For our kids most of the time, when they go home the language is not English,” Columbus School District superintendent Gary Benda said. “Because when people come over they tend to stay with people who speak their language. So their ability to learn English is determined by how much they want to learn, where the kids, they have to go to school and are surrounded by English. So, when kids get their instruction from English and then go home and work with a parent who may not speak English as well, then try to get instruction on math, kids have a hard time and so do the parents.”

Benda said he places emphasis on hiring staff members who speak more languages.


Information from: The Hawk Eye, http://www.thehawkeye.com