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Saline Area Schools have seen a big increase in its English Learners.

SAS’s EL Department has experienced a major student population growth over the past five years. There has been a 54 percent enrollment increase during that time, which includes a 150 percent increase in entering level ELs (limited to non-English speaking).

To learn more, the Sun Times News (STN) connected with Katherine O’Keeffe, Saline Area Schools EL Coordinator and an EL Teacher. The department is made up of seven EL Specialists, one EL Teacher and O’Keeffe, the EL Coordinator and EL Teacher.

The mission statement of SAS’s EL Department is “to Support English Learners and their Families by teaching the English Language, and Bridging our Cultures.”

STN asked O’Keeffe what they attribute the increase to.

She cited four reasons, which included work related reasons, war refugee/asylum reasons, better and increased number of job/education opportunities, housing and finally…

“Families chose SAS for the smaller school and for a smaller community feeling,” O’Keeffe said.

The EL Department recently highlighted the program to the board of education. In their report, the EL Department said the top languages include Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese, Russian and Tamil/Telugu/Hindi. They are seeing “a trend in increased Russian/Ukrainian population in addition to needed support for newcomers and EL tutoring outside of school and into summer.”

Many have come to the Saline Area School District with very limited English Speaking Skills with many of the students arriving between the months of October and January.

STN asked how the program works.

O’Keeffe said the students are supported at their grade level with an EL Specialist, who supports the student in the language domains that need immediate support.

She said, “The lessons are scaffolded to the students’ level. With our Newcomers or Entry Level English Learners we begin their English Language journey with Phonemic Awareness building their Literacy Foundation.”

The students are either supported in their classroom, she said, with an EL Specialist or pulled out and taught in a small group. The students are entitled to a specific number of hours per a matrix created by Saline Area Schools, legally supported by the State of Michigan.

Supports for EL students also include after school tutoring, purchase of iPads, digital platforms that support literacy, language glossaries for state testing.

Another part of what the EL program does is provide support also for the families. In their report, the department said they provide registration support, district-approved home visits, family engagement events, and at home access to digital platforms.

STN asked if there was anything in particular the community should know about the program/department.

O’Keeffe said, “The SAS English Learner Department truly appreciates all of the generous support from the Saline community! Our English Learner families feel more connected and have a better understanding of where to go for resources due to the help of the Saline community.”

She said for anyone interested in learning more to please not hesitate to reach out to her at OKeeffeK@salineschools.org with any questions.

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