An influx of families fleeing natural disasters and other crises has led to a growth in the number of languages other than English spoken at home by students in Anoka-Hennepin, the state’s largest school district.
That number has jumped from 121 in the 2016-2017 school year to 137 this year, according to the Minnesota Department of Education.
“We’re seeing more families come through the Family Welcome Center,” said Jennifer Cherry, the district’s director of student services. “We need to think about how school is taught and ensure that our teaching practices are inclusive and meeting the needs of all those students.”
Anoka-Hennepin attributes the sudden spike to an influx of families that have fled California wildfires and hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Texas. The arrival of new refugees from other countries also has contributed to the increase.
Spanish and Hmong are the most common languages spoken at home, after English.
Other popular home languages for Anoka-Hennepin students are Vietnamese, Arabic, Somali, Russian, Oromo and Swahili. The district said it has seen the most significant growth in its number of Arabic speakers — with that number more than doubling, from 200 in 2007 to 538 a decade later.
Spanish, Somali and Hmong are the most common non-English languages spoken by students around Minnesota, state education officials reported. But there are now nearly 250 languages spoken by the state’s elementary and secondary students.
Although English Language Learners (ELL) are the fastest-growing student population in Minnesota, the share of ELL students attending Anoka-Hennepin schools has remained steady over the past five years. About 6 percent of the district’s 38,000 students receive ELL services and a majority of those students are Spanish speakers, Cherry said.
Because of funding strains, the influx of non-English-speaking students has presented a challenge for the district.
During family nights and school conferences, the district often scrambles to find interpreters for the less commonly spoken languages.
The district has a general liaison who supports all of its schools’ ELL programs and just last year it hired a cultural liaison to assist Latino families.
“We do not have significant funds to fund translations in all of those various languages,” Cherry said. “We try to be very mindful and proactive about the way we reach out to our families who are not proficient in English.”
According to a recent parent survey conducted by the district, about 20 percent of Anoka-Hennepin families said they were concerned about the district’s growing class sizes. The overcrowding persists in schools in Blaine, Ramsey and Dayton, the survey reports.
District officials say they are working to address those concerns and add that the growing number of languages is not a factor.