County's only ESL instructor helps students learn

By Julie Fann

English is the language individuals must master to survive in an increasingly corporate, globalized world. Fortunately, we Americans are exempt from having to learn it.
   However, for citizens living in other countries, and for those who immigrate to America, acquiring English speaking skills is mandatory.
   ESL is the common name for the federally mandated program to teach English to school children who do not speak it. Tennessee had more than 13,000 ESL students during the 2001-2002 school year, about 1 percent of the total student population, said Carol Irwin, the state's ESL consultant.
   The total is up about a third since 1998-99.
   "Tennessee is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation for ESL. It's one of the top immigration destinations in the nation," Irwin said.
   Dr. Chele Dugger became Carter County's only English as a Second Language teacher four years ago when the state mandated that each school system have one. She has approximately 14 students this year who come from a variety of cultures.
   "Most families are from Mexico, but we've also had a Tagalog speaker from the Philippines; we've had a Portuguese student, a Korean student, a German student; we have a little bit of everyone, even in Carter County," Dugger said.
   Becoming ESL certified requires an undergraduate degree and completion of a two-year ESL program. Dugger possesses two undergraduate degrees as well as a doctorate in education, which she received from East Tennessee State University.
   "I was employed in this position but had to go back and take another 20 hours which was offered by the State Department at Tennessee Tech," Dugger said.
   Students who enter the Carter County School System, or any state school system, are first required to fill out a home language survey. If any language other than English is checked on that survey, then students must take the EPT (English Proficiency Test).
   "After that is done, if the student is not English proficient, they are 'labeled' an LEP (Limited English Proficient) learner," Dugger said.
   Dugger travels to all of the county's 14 schools at the beginning of the academic year, performing surveys and testing students. The scores determine the number of students Dugger will have.
   "We do a pull out program, and I work with them either one-on-one or in a small group, usually not more than two students, to help make them English proficient, and we test them every spring," Dugger said.
   Dugger also works with teachers, providing them with information by holding inservices, and teachers give Dugger weekly feedback on their students.
   Dugger follows each ESL student for three years, checking grades and TCAP (Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program) scores to make sure students remain proficient.
   For up to three years, ESL students are exempt from having to take the TCAP but, after that time period, they must prove they can master the exam.
   "However, research shows that it takes five to seven years for students to acquire cognitive academic language proficiency. I wish I could ask legislators to take the test," Dugger said.
   Dugger also works with two migrant families that involve four students. To be certified as a migrant family, the state requires that immigrants live in counties less than three years. In that program, Dugger also tutors children after school if needed.
   "Families in churches have also unofficially adopted children and aided in their support. Yesterday, one student wasn't at school, so I went to the family's home, and they said he didn't have any shoes. I offered to get them for him, but they said they would, and he was there Monday," Dugger said.
   With the migrant families, Dugger is preparing children to begin Kindergarten with Headstart by teaching them basic words and phrases so they can cope on a basic level when they begin.
   "There are some folks who may not agree with this program, but the fact is we all came from different places. All of our ancestors came from different places, and it's important to me that we educate all our kids, no matter where they are from," Dugger said.
   According to Dugger, the state just started releasing some money for funding ESL programs through Title Three and the BEP program. Prior to that, systems relied on federal funding. However, school systems must have 50 or more students or have a consortium with other students to receive the funding.
   "Numbers are on the rise statewide, and there is a real need," Dugger said.
   The Elizabethton City School System doesn't have an ESL program. According to Carol Whaley, Federal Projects Director, the reason is because there aren't many students who fall into the category of needing the service.
   "Over the course of the year, we may have three or four, and it is a very diverse group, but under federal law we have to provide for those students," Whaley said.
   Whaley said the school system helps students by first administering the EPT test. "We look at that and see if they need services, and then if they do then I get on the phone and try to find someone to help them," Whaley said.
   During the 1990s, the number of Hispanic residents tripled to about 124,000, while the Asian population surged 83 percent, to 57,000. Much of the growth was attributed to immigrants who moved to the United States and settled in Tennessee.