EL PASO — As the drug war rages on in México, the number of students that have enrolled in El Paso schools due to the violence remains unknown and unrecorded by schools. Ysleta and the Socorro Independent School Districts said there is no clear indication that people fleeing México to escape the violence have dramatically affected either district.
“I know students are coming in from México, but I cannot say with any certainty and there is not any data that I can look at right now that tells me that we have grown by any significant number and that we can directly attribute that to students coming in from México to flee the violence,” said Hector Giron, director for Bilingual/ESL/LOTE Department for YISD.
For students that have already made the transition to U.S. schools, the main challenge for them has been overcoming the language barrier. A junior from Montwood High School in the SISD, who wishes to remain anonymous, said he has been going to school in the U.S. for six years and due to his level of English he felt intimidated when he began school here.
“It was very hard (with transition to the U.S. school system),” he said. “It was hard because I spoke very little English and other students would laugh at me because I didn’t speak English very good.”
In the 2010-2011 academic year, 11,246 students were enrolled in bilingual or ESL programs totaling 25 percent of the student body in YISD schools. The number of students in these programs has increased by 1,330 students since the 2007-2008 school year, even as the total number of students enrolled at the school district has dropped from 45,049 in 2007-2008 to 44,778 in 2010-2011.
In the 2010-2011 school year, between pre-kindergarten to the sixth grade there were no more than 10 students enrolled in ESL classes, but the number sees a dramatic increase in the seventh grade with 432 students enrolled. For the 2010-2011 school year, the ninth grade had the most ESL students with 477. The number of students enrolled by the twelfth grade is 159.
The student remains in the ESL program, but feels he has improved in his English because of the program. He plans on leaving El Paso once he graduates, but hopes to continue his education in the U.S.
“It (ESL program) has helped a lot, my English is getting better and I feel a little more comfortable speaking it,” he said. “I want to go to college somewhere outside of El Paso, but I want to go to a school here in the United States.”
The student said that he travels between the U.S. and México as he attends high school.
“I live in México, but I stay in El Paso during the week, so I can go to school here,” he said. “I travel back to México on Fridays, so I can stay with my family and then I come back to the other house I live at here (U.S.) on Sunday nights.”
The student said he believes there are many other students in El Paso in a similar situation as him but, like him, they do not like to talk about it.
Hispanic or Latino students make up 92 percent of the population of the school district. The number of students YISD reports as immigrant status in their district is currently 729, although the district does not track the number of students coming over from Juárez or other parts of México.
“We don’t have specific data on that (students from México), but if I look at the numbers of students we have at the district in terms of the percentage and also the number they represent district-wide of ESL students, we are not seeing a dramatic influx, where I can say we have grown by 500 or 600 students in the ESL population, the number has been pretty constant from year to year,” Giron said.
While the YISD enrollment numbers have remained steady in the last four academic years, with an average of 44,770 students per year, the figures for the SISD show an increase of almost 4,000 students between 2007-2008 and 2010-2011 academic years. The Socorro student population went from 38,696 to 42,676.
In fact, the SISD is the school district that has had the biggest increase in population in the last four academic years in El Paso County area.
According to Jennifer Davila, coordinator for bilingual education at SISD, the numbers of students entering the district from another country are not just from México, but they have recently seen an increase of students coming for all around the world, including an increase of Hispanic students coming from different parts of the U.S.
“As far as from coming directly from Juárez, well not necessarily is it just Juárez. In December we had an influx of students who came from military families,” Davila said. “We have a lot of families that have come over who maybe were not from here before, or families who are returning to El Paso. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it is only Hispanics that are directly tied to Juárez. We have Hispanic students coming from all over the U.S.”
Due to the expansion of Fort Bliss, Davila said LEP (Low English Proficiency) programs are not just for students from México, but also for all students that come for all over world that may not be efficient in the English language yet.
“We have several kids coming from Saudi Arabia, Germany, so we do have other countries other than just México,” Davila said. “With that we would say just for this year, approximately about 600 students throughout the district in different schools have come from various different countries.”
Cynthia Lopez, assistant superintendent for secondary education at SISD, said that teachers in the SISD are trained to help students from a variety of different countries excel at learning English.
“Teaching all teachers instructional strategies on how to teach students that may have a second language, and this might be a student who comes from Germany, Austria or a student from china,” Lopez said. “So they are trained in how to teach those students to speak the English and the goal was to train all teachers to ensure, that regardless whether they have one or two or 10 or 12 students in their class that they would be able to teach those students how to speak English.”
Davila also said that the number of Hispanics enrolled in ESL and LEP programs or that is classified as economically disadvantage is not an accurate way to identify students that may have come from México.
“Even if these kids do come from Juárez not all of them are coded economically disadvantaged or LEP. We have many kids that come here from Juárez and speak all English, they just live over there,” Davila said. “
Hispanics represented about 90 percent of the population of YISD and SISD for the last four academic years. Many of these students are enrolled in English as a Second Language and Bilingual Education programs.
Officials at both school districts said in order for a student to be placed in the LEP program, the district must go through a process of identifying a student through a screening and an assessment process to provide the coding of LEP.
“As far as students that are enrolling into our campuses that are identified as Hispanics, they are not necessarily coded in any other way, in order for our student to be coded or identified on PEIMS (Public Education Information Management System) as LEP, they have to go through a series of identification processes,” Davila said. “The first one would be to identify the child through the home language survey, so as far as these children coming in, it’s not necessarily due to them coming from Juárez. They can be coming in from other areas from Texas or the U.S., not necessarily from Juárez.”
The effect that the state coding system has on Texas school districts is in the way the coding changes after students enter the sixth grade. According to Giron, for the YISD the coding system is the reason why the increase in the number of students in ESL classes after the sixth grade correlates with the decrease in the number of students in LEP and bilingual programs.
“The way the state codes these program levels is that the state requires you to run bilingual education in the lower grades until sixth grade which is the start of middle school, and then from seventh through twelve it is ESL,” Giron said. “That is just the way it is coded by the state, so there is not necessarily a spike in the number of ESL students. It is just that they are no longer coded as being in the bilingual education program; they are now in the English as a Second Language program.”