Sen. Samuel Carrión, a member of the Committee on Finance, expressed concerns about the state of the territory’s English as a Second Language (ESL)/Bilingual Education program during Thursday’s budget hearing for the Department of Education.
Following his line of questioning, Sen. Carrión, a former student of the ESL program on St. Croix, became very concerned with the responses given by representatives from the Virgin Islands Department of Education. Specifically, the senator found that many of the answers given regarding the territory’s ESL program lacked clarity and necessary details.
“The ESL program is not only federally funded,” the senator said, “but it is a federal mandate. We must address the vacancy of the state director and other relevant ESL positions as top critical hires.”
The English as a Second Language/Bilingual Education Program consists of instructional best practices to assist English learners with their academic progress in schools. English learners are students in grades pre-kindergarten through twelfth who cannot speak, understand, read and/or write in English well enough to carry on class activities in the same manner as their peers in the grades in which they are enrolled.
The federal Bilingual Education Act of 1968, Title III of the U.S. Department of Education, the Office of Civil Rights, and the Virgin Islands Bilingual Education Act (17 V.I.C. §41a) require the Virgin Islands Department of Education to establish and maintain an effective education program for English learners.
During the line of questioning, representatives from the Department of Education noted that two issues surrounding the status of the ESL programs were the defunding of related positions in previous fiscal
years and the difficulty in hiring due to the specialization of these fields. However, when pressed regarding the training and certification programs that should pave the way for teachers in the territory to become ESL program teachers, the department seemed to indicate that some of these teachers are instead placed in general education.
“We need to make sure that the teachers who went through these ESL training programs to acquire their certification — through federal money — are actually using that specific skillset with the necessary students,” Carrion said, “because as it stands, that is not what is happening, and we must do better.”
“Many of us in the Virgin Islands, particularly the Hispanic community of St. Croix, have been impacted positively by services of the ESL/Bilingual Program in our schools,” Senator Carrión concluded, “Unfortunately, the ESL/Bilingual Program in the Virgin Islands has not received the recognition and the attention it deserves from the VI Department of Education. It is my intention that all students in the Virgin Islands receive an equitable and quality education in our schools.”