Commentary: Teaching all students 

Nationwide, minority enrollment (Latino, African-American and Asian combined) in public schools is expected to surpass white student enrollment, according to an Aug. 19 report from Education Week and data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

This is largely due to Hispanic community growth and is a reality that mirrors what Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS) has seen the past several years. Oklahoma State Department of Education numbers for the 2014-2015 school year show the OKC district serves more than 45,000 students.

Its demographic makeup is 48 percent Hispanic, 26 percent black, 18 percent white, 4 percent American Indian, 2 percent multiracial and 2 percent Asian. There are 18,532 bilingual students, 12,658 English Language Learners and 41 languages spoken.

OKCPS has an obligation to open its doors to all students, and our community shares that obligation. It is our responsibility to ensure that every student is provided with a good education and the chance to be productive, successful members of society.

How this is accomplished for students who arrive in our district without English language skills and with varied levels of prior education poses a number of challenges for educators. OKCPS has a team of individuals within its language and cultural services department dedicated to finding solutions.

One major issue being confronted is the shortage of bilingual teachers. There are numerous stories about teacher recruitment efforts from Puerto Rico and Spain, and this year, our community welcomed a number of new instructors as part of this program. But there is a more grassroots effort under development that also will fill the void in bilingual teachers.

The district employs nearly 130 bilingual paraprofessionals who play a key role in classrooms, and many have a strong desire to complete their education and become certified teachers.

The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools, OKCPS and education partners University of Central Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City and Oklahoma City Community College are launching a program to help these dedicated employees and community members obtain their degrees and teaching certificates.

Upon completion, they will be placed as classroom teachers within the district. This “grow our own” mentality could close the bilingual teacher shortage gap while giving these paraprofessionals and their families a tremendous hand up.

There are so many good things happening within our city’s public schools. Administrators, school leaders, teachers and support staff come to work every day inspired and motivated to help our children achieve. Students who don’t speak English as their first language have obstacles that are difficult but not impossible to overcome.

We must continue to search for innovative solutions to help these students succeed. Just as they are in school, they will be leaders, workers and members of our community as adults.

Just as importantly, we must celebrate our community’s diversity and work to create a city that embraces multiculturalism and the many benefits that provides.

Mary Mélon is president and CEO of The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools, which works to connect the community with schools to improve education.

Print headline: How to best teach all of our students

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