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Mexican materials help ELL students academically

When Jackson County schools enroll a student who doesn't speak English their first priority is teaching the student the language.

But educators say they are also concerned with improving the student's academic skills, a process that can be stalled during the transition to English.

To help students keep up with their academic skills, the state has had a partnership with the Mexican government for the past 17 years that provides supplemental Spanish instructional materials to Oregon schools at no charge or for a nominal fee.

In January, the state will begin determining how to fill in the gaps where the Mexican elementary, secondary and adult-level curricula don't meet Oregon's academic standards.

The state recently completed a study overseen by the Salem-based Willamette Education Service District that identified how the Oregon content standards and Mexican curricula differ in preparation for the upcoming project.

"It's really useful because if a newcomer comes in and their English isn't strong enough, they can continue gaining in math and science and social studies while they're learning English," said Charlie Bauer, migrant education coordinator at the Southern Oregon Education Service District.

The state decided to align the Mexican curriculum to the state standards because so many students migrate between Mexico and Oregon, said Susanne Smith, a spokeswoman at the Oregon Department of Education.

"This is a way to provide continuity," Smith said.

In Jackson County, there were about 4,232 Hispanic students in 2007-08 and 2,180 of those were considered English language learners, according to the state.

The Southern Oregon ESD and Medford School District have used some of the supplemental Mexican instructional materials, mostly for adult education classes that are offered at Howard Elementary School in Medford. The materials also have been used in some summer school classes, Bauer said.

"The tricky thing is having a teacher whose Spanish is strong enough to use the materials," Bauer said.

Not all ELL teachers are bilingual or necessarily speak Spanish because in some districts, students enroll speaking a variety of languages.

Phoenix-Talent School District took some free books from the Mexican government four to five years ago, which were used in bilingual classes, said Javier del Rio, Phoenix-Talent schools ELL coordinator.

"We are definitely going to be looking into (any new materials) because sometimes they come up with neat stuff," del Rio said.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.