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Chicken and egg situation for a WA school district on learning English

Woodland HS school sign PIXLR.jpg
The Woodland WA School District near Vancouver WA reports "nearly 280 Hispanic families in the district speak very little to no English." So a district specialist is now teaching the district's teachers and staff Spanish rather than, ya know, urging the immigrant families to learn English.{ }

KVI's John Carlson and Lars Larson discuss the story of teachers and staff in the Woodland, Washington school district who are learning to speak Spanish because so few of the students' parents in the district are able to speak English. After the discussion about the school district staff going the extra mile to assist non-English speaking families, a KVI listener, Ray, calls the show because he is a native Spanish speaker and thinks the school district is doing these families a disservice.

Here is an excerpt is from a press release by the Woodland School District:

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Monday, December 4, 2017-Woodland, WA-Staff members at Woodland Public Schools gather once a week to take Spanish classes from Milagros Wells, the district's English Language Learner (ELL) Outreach Coordinator and native Spanish speaker, who decided to offer the free classes as a way for her colleagues to connect with Woodland's growing Hispanic population.

Wells realized she could help when a member of the administrative team approached her about learning Spanish. Nearly 280 Hispanic families in the district speak very little to no English. "Ingrid Colvard, the Principal of Woodland Primary School, asked me if there was a way for her and her staff to learn Spanish," explained Wells. "I realized right then and there that Spanish lessons for our staff could be very beneficial to give them ways to communicate with this growing population."

Wells started offering language classes for her colleagues in October with staff members filling the classroom each week, eager to find effective methods to connect with all of Woodland's students. "We want to encourage our bilingual students to continue to speak their native language, and one way to do this is to provide the staff with some fundamental words to interact with those students on a day-to-day basis," said Wells. "For our staff, it's not about picking up the entire language -- it's about learning how to communicate and validate diversity."

Wells says her colleagues provide excellent examples as students, with many working hard to learn the nuances of the Spanish language. "Our staff members really want to learn, so, for me, it's just a matter of sharing my native language and then giving my colleagues the time to gain a richer understanding of the Spanish-speaking community," said Wells. "We continue to have students and families come to Woodland with little to no English fluency so it is essential for our staff to be able to communicate and welcome everyone."

So far, the staff raves about their experiences learning Spanish. "Milagros is a marvelous teacher and serves as a tremendous advocate for Spanish-speaking families throughout the district," said Annika Dukes, a Woodland Middle School teacher taking Wells' classes. "It's delightful to see the range of staff members taking part with Milagros coaxing us out of our comfort zones making us willing to make mistakes in order to connect with all of our community members."

Vicky Barnes, Human Resources Manager for Woodland Public Schools, started attending Wells' classes so she could greet parents and visitors to the district office. "I quickly realized that Spanish-speaking parents were just looking for answers to simple questions like how to find a certain school," said Barnes. "I decided that I want to get comfortable enough speaking Spanish that I can effectively greet our visitors and answer basic questions."

As Woodland Public Schools' ELL Outreach Coordinator, Wells also offers classes for Spanish parents to learn English. Now, she's working on connecting both groups of students so they can learn from each other. "I have taught English classes for our Spanish-speaking parents for more than two years," said Wells. "One of my goals is to bring both language classes together so they can become more confident using their new skills by speaking with each other."

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