By Julie Huss
DERRY — Being the new kid in school is sometimes tough enough.
Imagine what it might be like if you came to Derry from Finland or Ethiopia, speaking little to no English on that first day.
For some students in the Derry district, that is what it's like coming to school, having no language skills, and trying to fit in with classroom surroundings and new friends.
The district's ESOL, or English for Speakers of Other Languages program, sets programs in motion to help these students learn the language, and get on track with learning and acceptance.
Director of Supplemental Services Serena Levine gave an overview of the program to School Board members at a meeting May 2.
From Lebanon to Turkey, from Korea to Peru, the list is long, she said, of countries and languages now represented in Derry classrooms.
Some students move here with families from another country. Some are born here, but hear only their native language at home.
Right now, there are 86 students in the program, Levine said. Elementary schools have 54 students; the middle schools have 32. The district has 23 languages of origin present in those students.
"It's pretty remarkable to not only share those languages, but those cultures with us," Levine said.
Numbers are rising, too, of the students who arrive here and are either non-English speakers, or have minimal, or mainly social, speech capacity.
Putting that speech into motion to be successful in the classroom is where the ESOL staff comes in.
The district has five staffers who are key to the ESOL success.
"They do a tremendous amount of work for the ESOL students in Derry," she said.
Students enrolled in the ESOL program are also required to participate in all state testing.
Add in the normal culture shock issues like feeling isolated and confused and it's often a daunting school world for students.
"There are a lot of things they face and it's our job to help them work through," Levine said. "We are there for them in all aspects as friend, teacher, translator, and advocate."
Superintendent Mary Ellen Hannon said every year the district has children walk in the door with no English speaking skills.
"They are just so welcome," she said.
The state audits the local ESOL program, Levine said. The most recent visit was last fall.
Levine said the auditing team was pleased with what they saw in Derry.
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