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Educational organizations in the state call for increased support for multilingual learners

Delaware Dept. of Education

Multilingual learners are the state’s fastest growing demographic of students in the state.

Since 2016, the percent of multilingual learners enrolled in Delaware schools increased by 42%, now topping 14,500 students- but they aren’t getting the necessary support to succeed.

That’s according to a new fact sheet created by Rodel, the Delaware Hispanic Commission, the Arsht-Cannon Fund, and Delaware English Language Learners Teachers and Advocates.

It shows over the past 5 years the large achievement gaps between multilingual students and native English speaking students have seen little to no improvements.

Multilingual learners face a variety of learning disparities, including lack of access to educators certified in Multilingual and English as a Second Language teaching.

The current number of those educators available in Delaware is not keeping up with the growing number of students that need them.

Every district in the state has multilingual learners, but some districts have no certified instructors at all.

Aspira Delaware CEO Margie Lopez-Waite says increased funding to recruit more of these teachers, as well as certify current teachers, is imperative.

“We have teachers that are very much interested and passionate about extending their credentials and learning how to help more students but when you then tell them that they have to pay for that certification themselves out of pocket it definitely creates some barriers,” said Lopez-Waite.

Aspira Delaware works to help close the economic barriers preventing teachers from receiving their certification, but state funding for multilingual learning programs only makes up 3% of Delaware’s total education spending.

With more funding needs than are currently available from the state, it’s all-hands-on-deck for organizations supporting education in Delaware.

Arsht-Cannon Fund executive director Christine Cannon says one way her organization supports multilingual students is by providing language instruction to the entire family.

“Back in 2008 we gave our first grant to ESL programs in the state. And we’ve never stopped, we made that our priority. And a lot of the ESL programs are for adults, but many are family focused,” said Cannon. “Parents can bring their kids. So when parents are learning English, the kids are also having a lot of opportunities for educational support.”

Increasing English language proficiency in households helps students better understand the lessons in all subjects, despite lagging availability for in-school English instruction.

And Cannon adds that while it’s currently difficult to support all of the multilingual students in the state through the educational system, the rapidly increasing number of students from different backgrounds represents a positive change in Delaware that she hopes will continue.

Quinn Kirkpatrick was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, and graduated from the University of Delaware. She joined Delaware Public Media in June 2021.