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84 languages spoken in Buffalo Public Schools

Buffalo Public Schools

Buffalo Public Schools have added so many immigrants to the student population, the district now has 84 languages spoken in the hallways and 125 teachers have been added to work with these students.

At one time, pretty much the only other language spoken in the district besides English was Spanish, reflecting the many students whose families came here from Puerto Rico. Now, nowhere near all of the Latino students are from the island. They also come from across Central and South America.

That is why the district has hired 50 specialists, who speak up to four languages, to help students and families navigate the school system. Rosy Zel told the Buffalo School Board, the teachers are crucial.

"To speak English and improve our English and our ESL teacher push us and support us through our journal," Zel said, "and as you can see from my story, ESL teachers are very significant people in the lives of ELL students. We know that Buffalo Public School wants to educate all of our children, but we are worried that there are not enough ESL teachers in our classrooms."

Refugee Hemanta Adhikari said her teachers helped her get where she is.

"As time went on, I learned to adapt to a new environment socially, physically, emotionally and every factor as possible," Adhikari said, "and I make friends and I went  to school, high school. I graduated two years ago, with her, and now I'm at UB studying to become a doctor, hopefully (applause)."

School Superintendent Kriner Cash says ELL kids are a challenge and that is why he has approved hiring so many staff members. Still, there is a 43 percent dropout rate and only a 26 percent graduation rate among these students.

Parent Jerry Manuel told the School Board it is crucial to get the families engaged with the schools.

"Many refugee parents are not engaged in their child's education," said Manuel. "They feel nervous in talking with teachers and principals, whom they view as authority figures. This is a cultural trait. It is important that BPS has a strategy to engage refugees and immigrant parents so that they feel welcome and can contribute to our schools."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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