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Local News

Fischer parents worry school might lose community feel

ELMHURST – A group of Elmhurst residents continue to question if the current English Language Learners program at Conrad Fischer is the best option for students and staff.

“When we started to see diversity come into our neighborhoods, it wasn’t two years ago,” lifelong Elmhurst resident Bill Sullivan said. “It wasn’t five years ago. We saw this in the mid-’90s.”

That’s when Sullivan said Fischer parents and teachers began working together to build a strong, united community. Sullivan, a father of nine children, worries the newly implemented self-contained English Language Learner classrooms could threaten the sense of community he admires about Fischer.

“We don’t really look at subgroups at Conrad Fischer,” Sullivan said. “They’re kids. The government looks at subgroups.”

In the past, Fischer has used resource models to assist students who need additional help with English. ELL students were placed in general education classes and pulled out to work with a resource teacher.

Jane Bailey, who will begin her seventh year as principal at Fischer this fall, said that she has noticed a difference, not necessarily with an increase in bullying as some parents have expressed, but in how students self-identify.

“We do see more language diverse students, but it’s not astronomical,” Bailey said.

When school starts in August, Fischer is expected to have 251 students whose parent indicated that a language other than English is spoken at home, a question asked on the federally mandated Home Language Survey. Of those 251 students, 200 indicated that the language spoken was Spanish and 51 indicated other languages. Every one of those students’ English language proficiency then needs to be assessed. Currently, Fischer administers tests to determine proficiency levels for entrance and exit to the ELL program.

“I’m not 100 percent sure all of these students really belong in this program,” said Servando Cedillo, a three-year resident of Elmhurst.

Although Cedillo knows Spanish, his daughters, two of which attend Fischer, consider English to be their native tongue and learn in English classrooms.

An interview process with parents who indicate another language is spoken at home could supplement testing. Paul DeMichele, a former Board of Education member and Fischer grandparent, wants the district to verify the needs of each of these students, ensuring that ELL is the best fit program for all of the students that may not pass the test.

Other parents wondered if students with learning disabilities may not pass the test for reasons other than a lack of English proficiency. Sally Sullivan, Bill’s wife, said that she is not against the ELL program.

“That can’t be more the opposite,” said Sally Sullivan. “I think that we want the kids to receive the services that they need.”

Fisher is willing to explore its options, according to officials.

“In the United States, we’re always looking for ways to improve,” Bailey said.

She acknowledge there are some serious concerns about the ELL program as well as a lot of different program models available.

“I think we as adults need to make the best decisions we can for the children,” said Bailey. “That’s why we’re here.”

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