When someone learns a Great Bend teacher works at Riley Elementary School, one of the most common questions asked is, “Do you speak Spanish?”
In fact, none of Riley’s teachers are bilingual, Principal Beth Rein told the school board Tuesday.
“All instruction is delivered in English. All of the teachers speak English,” she said.
The school board held its February luncheon meeting at the school, where Rein and some of Riley’s leadership team talked about school improvement efforts.
Even though the lessons are all in English, Riley’s world is one with two languages – English and Spanish – Rein said. It has more English language learners than the other four elementary schools combined, with 220 qualifying to take the Kansas English Language Proficiency Assessment (KELPA). And Riley has 10 bilingual support staff members and teachers who have training to teach English language learners.
At this time, five students in grades K-6 are completely non-English speakers. When Rein started working at Riley 23 years ago, that number was closer to 20 to 30, she said. Preschoolers and kindergartners are the children most likely to come to school knowing only Spanish. Fortunately, they pick up a second language quickly, Rein said.
“Riley is truly unique and diverse,” she said. “Most of our kids speak English and you would be able to hold a conversation with them in the hallway.” But when it comes to learning the Pythagorean theorem in sixth grade, their language proficiency may be more of an issue.
While communications to parents are sent home in English and Spanish, there are schools will many other languages, Rein noted. “At Wichita State University I worked with a school with 14 languages.”
Riley has 338 students from 231 families. Messages go to 109 families in Spanish and to 122 families in English.
Those messages seldom take the form of written notes that are left in students’ backpacks and forgotten, by the way. Now that virtually everyone has a cell phone, Riley uses cell phones for messages.
Riley’s youngest student was born on April 1, 2016. Offering preschool at Riley has been well received. Superintendent Khris Thexton said the administration would like to make preschool available at the other community schools, which is one goal for the facilities master plan and the upcoming bond election.
Rein said one section for 3-year-olds is full with 15 students, although some parents don’t want to send kids to school that early. The three sections for 4-year-olds is nearly full with 42 students – three students short of capacity. The only reason there are still openings is probably due to scheduling conflicts, since morning times are more popular than afternoon times.
Still, the demand for spots in preschool classes is so great that Rein compared last year’s enrollment day to Black Friday, with parents arriving hours before the doors opened.
This year, she hopes to alleviate the rush with a preschool round-up and pre-enrollment event on April 14, with pre-enrollment for the other grades after that.
KRR grant application
In action items Tuesday, the school board approved contributions and grant applications. This included allowing Assistant Superintendent John Popp to apply for a Kansas Reading Roadmap Grant. It will cost $2,000 to apply for the grant, but the goal is to continue to receive funding now that KRR is under the management of the Kansas Department of Children and Families. Previously, DCF had an agreement with an outside firm to administer the after-school programming.
“This will allow us to continue our after-school program, if we get the grant,” Thexton said.
Other contributions and grants approved:
• Jay and Rhonda Knudson donated $50 and Pilot Club of Great Bend donated $250 to the USD 428 student lunch program to reduce student lunch debt.
• Sunflower Diversified donated $300 to the Panther Media Class at Great Bend High School.
• Vintage Wheel Car Club donated $150 to the Vocational Technical Club (VTC) at GBHS for the electric race car program.
• GBHS orchestra teacher Isaac Enochs will accept a $250 grant contribution to the World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City over spring break. The contribution helps to fund travel expenses for 40 GBHS band and orchestra students. The grant also includes free student admission and free sack lunches for each student.
• Helping Hands Preschool received $323 from the Sherry Viles Memorial Fund.
The school board also approved the resignation of Kerrigan Travens, a first-grade teacher at Eisenhower Elementary School, and accepted the appointment of Kayla Meadows, who will be a school counselor at GBHS.