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Legacy High School students no longer fill the halls of Hughes Educational Center, but that doesn't mean the facility is empty.

Hughes, which contains classroom space next to Bismarck Public Schools' administration offices, now houses a new English language learner program for the district's youngest students.

Thirteen youngsters speaking at least three native languages started the school year there Thursday. They're split between two classrooms — one for kindergarteners and first-graders and another for kids in grades 2-5.

The students will attend the ELL Welcome Center at Hughes for no more than a year. When a child has reached a sufficient proficiency level, the student will transfer to his or her designated school.

"We want to get them back with their English-speaking peers as fast as we can," said Michele Svihovec, ELL director for the school district and principal at Centennial Elementary School.

For elementary students just beginning to learn English, the new program marks a major change to the way they receive instruction.

In years past, the district's seven ELL teachers drove from school to school each day to meet with students. Some will continue to do so for more advanced English language learners and for students in secondary schools.

Each child got only 30 minutes to an hour of daily instruction in comprehending English, Svihovec said. The rest of the time, they sat in their regularly assigned classroom as their teacher proceeded through the day's lessons in math, reading, science and other subjects.

"They listened to a teacher talk in English and didn't understand anything," Svihovec said.

Students at Hughes this year will be taught the same core subjects as their English-speaking peers throughout the district, but they'll do so with the support of an ELL teacher all day long. The West Fargo school district has a similar program, she said.

Rebecca Andvik, who will teach grades 2-5, started the year with four students who speak Spanish and Tagalog, a language common in the Philippines. She soon expects two more who speak Kiswahili and are moving to Bismarck from an African refugee camp.

"Because of the small classes, they'll have more opportunity for one-on-one time," she said.

To teach a group of students with a range of language backgrounds, she said she will make use of visuals and real-life objects, as well as repetition.

Andvik knows Spanish, which she uses to communicate with some of her kids' parents.

Among Bismarck's ELL students, Spanish has become the most commonly spoken native language since the oil boom took off several years ago in western North Dakota, Svihovec said. The number of ELL students in Bismarck has more than doubled during that time.

Andrei Niculita, the father of a boy entering kindergarten, moved to Bismarck recently with several members of his extended family and their kids. They lived in Washington state previously after immigrating from Moldova, a country near Russia.

"It's a little bit scary, a little bit good," he said of his son starting school in Bismarck. "We don't know how he'll take English or how he will do with other children."

Niculita and his family speak Russian at home, though he learned English before he finished college by spending time in Alaska. He said it's important that he understand English while his children learn it, and that he has a job. He works for a tiling business in Bismarck.

"I must be an example for my kids," he said.

Parents of ELL students can make use of the welcome center as well. Svihovec said they can come to Hughes to use computers and to receive assistance filling out applications, whether for jobs or social services.

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(Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8267 or amy.sisk@bismarcktribune.com.)

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