CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The number of K-12 students in Wyoming participating in a program to help them speak and read the English language has increased 10.5 percent over the last four years, according to statistics compiled by the state Department of Education.
The state spent $2.6 million in the 2012-13 school year for instructors in the English Language Learner program.
The number of students in the program has increased from 3,190 in the 2009-10 school year to 3,526 this past year.
Teton County School District 1 had the most students in the program with 480, followed by Rock Springs with 393, Casper with 382, Cheyenne with 308 and Gillette with 295. Eight small districts had no students in the program.
Beth VanDeWege, who oversees the English Language Learner program at the state Education Department, attributes most of the increase to better screening practices in identifying students needing the program.
"So that screener caught more of the kids that needed services that were slipping through," VanDeWege said.
The majority of students in the program are Hispanic, she said.
There were nearly 11,700 Hispanic students in Wyoming's public school system in the fall of 2012. They represented about 13 percent of the 90,990 total students.
VanDeWege said all states are required by federal law to provide the program to students who don't speak English proficiently.
Under the program, a school provides an extra teacher to help the regular classroom teacher with the English Language Learner students or creates a separate class for the students in the program.
VanDeWege said that the program is particularly helpful because there are many words unique to education that are not found in normal conversational English.
For example, science class requires words like evaporation and osmosis.
"Academic language is way harder to come by than the conversational language," she said.