Fauquier Schools Reach Out to Immigrant Families
ESL Program Expanded; GED Classes for Parents

By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 28, 2005; Page LZ03

¡A leer y escribir ya! -- To read and write now! -- reads the poster in the library of P.B. Smith Elementary School in Warrenton, where Fauquier County's teachers of English as a Second Language met Thursday to select workbooks for their rapidly growing program and to prepare for the school year.

ESL programs will be offered in three more Fauquier schools tomorrow, bringing the total to nine. About 350 students are expected to enroll, up from 290 last year and just 32 students in three schools five years ago, said Amy Ternois, coordinator of the ESL and foreign language programs for Fauquier public schools.

Also tomorrow, Spanish will be taught for the first time in a Fauquier elementary school, J.G. Brumfield Elementary in Warrenton. Although foreign language programs are available in middle and high schools, this is the first year students in kindergarten through fifth grade will be able to study a foreign language.

The state does not require foreign languages to be taught in elementary schools, but the principal at Brumfield, Rosanne Williamson, found there was room in the schedule and decided to offer a language class once a week. Ternois said one of the reasons Spanish was chosen is because it is "clearly the second language most frequently spoken" in the United States.

Ternois said that compared with Fairfax County, which has 22,000 ESL students, and Loudoun County, which anticipates 2,550 students this year, the numbers in her ESL program are low. But in a school district of 11,000 students, "it feels overwhelming to us," she said.

ESL programs will be available in both high schools, two out of five middle schools and five out of nine elementary schools. Students who do not live within the boundaries of one of these schools can travel to another school that has a program.

Laura Hoover, who started teaching in Fauquier three years ago, opened an ESL center at M.M. Pierce Elementary School in Remington last year. Previously, students in southern Fauquier had to take an hour-long bus ride to an elementary school with an ESL teacher, she said.

"We are continually opening new programs in kids' home schools so they don't have to travel," she said.

Although more than 80 percent of Fauquier's ESL students are Hispanic, including many immigrants from Mexico and Central America whose families live and work on the county's horse and sod farms, the housing boom the past few years has resulted in an increasingly diverse student body.

Hoover said her ESL classes this year will include students whose first languages are Spanish, Arabic, Persian, Portuguese and Turkish.

The nine ESL teachers are assigned to a school and a roster of students to work with throughout the year. The list is limited, when possible, to about 40 students.

Ternois said the goal of the program is to keep students in their home classrooms as much as possible. ESL teachers pull out students for concentrated language instruction but focus on helping them understand what's happening in their other classes.

Although the elementary school foreign language program is new and limited to one school, the ESL program in Fauquier is gradually expanding, even beyond the school-age population.

There are efforts at the schools to reach out to parents of ESL students who do not speak English and may not know where to go for basic education or the kind of help with English their children receive at school.

Last year, the county offered a GED class in Spanish at W.G. Coleman Elementary School in Marshall for the first time. The class is open to anyone but targets parents of ESL students.

Day and night classes in English and GED preparation also are available through the school system at the Adult Learning Center in Warrenton.

Ternois said as long as the housing market grows, so will such programs.

"They just approved 300 new homes," she said. "Some of those people will be English-language learners."