Number of Arabic Speakers Doubles at Weymouth Schools
The number of Arabic speakers in the English language learner program at Weymouth schools doubled from last year to 54.
Arabic speakers are now the second largest group of English language learners in the Weymouth schools, a sign of growing diversity among a student population that remains predominantly white, school officials say.
The number of Arabic speakers from Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia and Lebanon doubled from last year to 54, edging out Spanish as the second-most widely spoken language among English learners and ranking behind only Portuguese, according to numbers provided by the schools.
"I would say we've had a pretty large jump," said Mary Ann Bryan, the director of the district's English language learning program.
There are 223 students in the English language learner program, an increase of 13 percent from last year. They spend part of the day with teachers specially trained to help them keep up with their peers as they learn English.
There are 178 Portuguese speakers and 42 Spanish speakers. Students in the program speak a total of 34 different languages, including Vietnamese, Chinese, Creole, French, Korean, Nepali, Punjabi, Hindi and Swahili.
Weymouth's overall student population is about 80.5 percent white.
School officials aren't sure what's driving the increase in Arabic speakers in Weymouth. Bryan said the rise could be partly because turmoil in several of the students' native countries has spurred immigration.
"It is a growing population in Weymouth," Superintendent Kenneth Salim said.
He said the overall growth in the number of non-native English speakers has increased diversity in the schools and exposed students to other cultures.
"That brings value to the educational experience of students, being able to work with their peers and have friends from different backgrounds," Salim said.
Still, Weymouth's English-learner population remains relatively small. This year, it's about 3.1 percent of the district's approximately 6,800 students, according to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The state average is 7.9 percent.
But the program continues to grow.
The district added a sixth teacher to the program this year and hopes to add another who would split time between the high school and the middle school next year to keep up with the growing population.
"It's a sign of the times," school committee Chairman Sean Guilfoyle said. "We are a multi-cultural society."
Related Topics: Middle Eastern Languages
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