I recently wrote a story for Education Week about the challenges that school districts encounter when their student demographics shift rapidly and educators must scramble to not only provide instruction to students who are not native English speakers, but provide all the necessary communications to parents who don't speak or understand English.
While a number of large districts have been singled out for falling short when it comes to communicating with immigrant parents, one district in Arkansas, which I featured prominently in my piece, has been particularly thoughtful and deliberate in its efforts to integrate ELLs and their families into the broader school community.
Springdale, the second largest district in Arkansas with 19,000 students, is nestled in the Ozarks in the northwest corner of the state, where corporate giants Wal-Mart, Inc., and Tyson Foods, make their headquarters and have provided a big draw to immigrant families. The district went from a student body that was almost exclusively white 15 years ago to one that now is 45 percent ELL, most of them from Spanish-speaking families that have immigrated from Mexico. (There is also a substantial population of students whose families hail from the Marshall Islands.)
Superintendent Jim Rollins has been at the helm of the district through the entire transformation. (He's been the schools chief since 1982.) And he has been a constant advocate and champion for the newcomer families and their children. He told me that one of the hardest things has been engaging parents who don't speak English, especially early on when the district had so few staff members who could speak Spanish. That has improved over time, but the next phase, Rollins told me, is developing a cadre of homegrown, bilingual teachers out of former students who started out as English-learners.
He conceded that it hasn't been easy so far to get these highly sought-after bilingual educators back to Springdale when they are offered higher-paying jobs in other districts, especially in cities like Houston and Dallas.
But today, thanks to a tip on Twitter from the folks at Colorín Colorado, I've learned that Springdale and other northwest Arkansas communities are offering higher education scholarships to former English-learners as incentive to lure them back into classrooms as bilingual teachers.
According to the story from local television news station KNWA, Springdale is hoping to get nearly 100 bilingual graduates to come back to the district as teachers within the next five years.