25 per cent of Edmonton public students now considered 'English language learners'

One-quarter of Edmonton public school students are now considered English language learners. 

Trustees were given an update Tuesday in a report about the district’s literacy strategy, which has been in place since 2018 and continues until 2022. 

The report outlines the importance of literacy, which is not just how to read but also the “ability, confidence and willingness to engage with language,” according to the Alberta Education definition. 

Edmonton Public Schools board chair Trisha Estabrooks said the city’s public schools have seen the number of English language learners grow by about 18 per cent over the last five years. 

“To me that shows that families are coming to our city and they are continuing to put their faith in Edmonton public schools,” she said.

Estabrooks  thinks that diversity is having a positive effect on staff and students.

“Our classrooms are dynamic places, and welcoming those English language learners in, welcoming their culture in … it’s exciting,” she said. “I think about the times I go to Norwood school and there’s something like 30 different languages spoken in that school alone.” 

The division is moving away from the term English as a second language since many students may already know more than one language when they arrive at school.

Edmonton Public Schools board chair Trisha Estabrooks says she is encouraged by the diversity within the district’s schools. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Teachers at all grade levels assess literacy, which allows them to intervene with students as soon as they see them struggling, said Nancy Petersen, managing director of strategic district support.

For English language learners, that could be later in their education experience. 

“If they’re new to Canada they may also be new to English,” Petersen said. “So, there’s that dual track of trying to help them develop as English language speakers. Then, also helping to ensure that as they develop their confidence in English and their vocabulary in English that we are then building their skills as a reader in English as well.” 

Petersen said literacy teams are in place in schools throughout the district. 

Intervention methods used by the school board vary depending on grade level. 

Reading Recovery is used in the earliest grades. In the 2018-19 school year, 62 students were in the program. By the end of the year, 71 per cent of those kids in Grade 1 were reading and writing at grade level. 

Other literacy programs worked with about 1,100 students in Grades 1 to 9 in the last school year.

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