Duval County schools seek ESOL teachers for influx of non-English speaking students

by: Lorena Inclan, Action News Jax Updated:

Up to 500 students who don’t speak English are expected to attend Duval County Public Schools this year.

That’s on top of the more than 6,600 English-language learners who are already enrolled.

Action News Jax learned enrollment is increasing, but the number of English as a second language, or ESOL, certified teachers, isn’t.

Teacher Nicolas Oliveras is one of the district’s ESOL-certified teachers.

Action News Jax was invited into one of his summer school lessons.

“What is a pilot? That’s an easy one,” Oliveras asked his class of about a dozen or so students.

It’s critical vocabulary for the young minds as they learn a whole new language.

One little boy in the room just moved to Jacksonville from Ethiopia. Another is from Ukraine, the girl next to her is Russian and another recently moved from Tanzania.

That’s just a snapshot of the different nationalities the district is seeing.

“We try to immerse them in English," Oliveras said. "The idea is that they hear as much English as they can."

There are currently 36 languages spoken among English-language learners in Duval County schools. The most common is Spanish, which is spoken by more than 60 percent, followed by Arabic and then Burmese.

According to DCPS ESOL Director Ingrid Carias, the number of English-language learners has grown significantly since she joined the district in 2014.

“Right now we actually ended on June 30th with 6,650. So we went from an 11 percent increase to a 27 percent increase,” Carias said.

The rapid influx has led to a shortage of teachers certified to teach English-language learners.

“Our kids are little sponges and they just need that extra support,” Carias said.

Carias said she knows firsthand how important that early support is because she was once in their shoes.

“I was missing home. I was missing family, and I just missed my own language. It was very difficult to learn in a different language,” Carias said.

Right now, the district has 2,755 ESOL-certified teachers, but it needs many more.

“We’re providing, for teachers that are teaching other content area classes, extra preparation for them to become ESOL-certified teachers,” said Carias.

In order to increase the number of ESOL teachers, the University of North Florida has teamed up with the district to train more ESOL paraprofessionals to become ESOL certified.

Oliveras said teaching English language learners comes with major challenges.

“Sometimes we get fourth graders or third graders that are at a kindergarten level, and that's a challenge,” Oliveras said.

He said regardless of the challenges, teaching them has been the highlight of his career.

“They want to learn. They're well-behaved. I love ESOL kids,” Oliveras said. 

The district said individuals don’t need to be bilingual to become an ESOL-certified teachers.

If you’re interested in applying, visit duvalschools.org.

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