Learning English more accessible in South Tippah School District

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal

RIPLEY – The South Tippah School District has found a way to meet the growing need for English language skills among its Latino and other English-as-a-second-language population and also help teachers who want to gain proficiency in a second language.
The English Language Learner program, supported by grants from U.S. Department of Education Title III funds, offers a broad spectrum of services to aid communication among parents, teachers and students, said Federal Programs Director Melinda Marsalis.
“When school started, I had a parent involvement meeting and invited all the parents to come,” Marsalis said. “I had friends who spoke Spanish to interpret data for them and help them fill out an evaluation that basically asked, ‘What can we do to help you help your student?’ Overwhelmingly they said, ‘We can’t speak enough English to set up a conference with teachers or call to talk to teachers.’”
Marsalis learned about the Rosetta Stone computer language learning program and realized it was the most flexible way to give Spanish-speaking parents a way to improve their language skills on a schedule that fits their needs.
Sisters-in-law Matilde Benavides and Maria Benavides during a recent session at the language lab told how much the program is helping them.
“I’m working on everything – reading, writing,” said Maria Benavides.
Maria Benavides’ daughter Yuridia, 6, a Ripley Elementary School student, accompanied her to the lab and read her book quietly while Maria used the language program. Maria’s other two children are Lorena, 8, a Ripley Elementary student, and Maria, 12, a Ripley Middle School student.
“I have been coming for a few months,” Maria Benavides said. “Sometimes it’s confusing, but it’s good, and I’m happy for my opportunity.”
The other benefit of the program is giving English-speaking teachers a way to earn continuing education credits while learning Spanish.
Title III funds under the federal No Child Left Behind law must be used to help students with limited English proficiency achieve grade-level and graduation standards as well as acquiring the English language.
Other components of the English Language Learner program include tutors at every school who work exclusively with English Language Learner students and an interpreter who is available to participate in parent-teacher meetings to help the parents communicate more effectively with teachers.
As a former teacher at Ripley Middle School, Marsalis prevailed on principal James Storey for use of his computer lab in the evenings, so parents who don’t have computers at home could come after their work day to use the language program.
The lab has about two dozen stations, and Marsalis has 50 Rosetta Stone accounts, which includes teachers and some parents who use the program on computers at home or another location away from the lab. Teachers must use the lab, so their continuing education hours can be recorded.
The lab is open from 6 to 8 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays for school district English-as-a-second-language parents and teachers who want to earn CEU credits, with Cayla Mills as the technical support person to help with any computer or software problems.
“We have about 200 students who are Hispanic or some other language of our 2,700 students, about 8 percent, which is a fairly high percentage,” Marsalis said. “We have 140 in the program, and it’s growing every year.”
lena.mitchell@journalinc.com