Education

From Spanish to Telugu, almost 41,000 CMS students speak other languages at home

South Mecklenburg High’s English as a second language students, including Juan Parra, published their immigration stories last spring.
South Mecklenburg High’s English as a second language students, including Juan Parra, published their immigration stories last spring. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

Almost 41,000 students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools come from homes where English isn’t the main language spoken, an increase of almost 3,600 over last year, according to a CMS report.

Most were born in the United States and speak English well themselves. The rising numbers are another sign of the international makeup of the CMS community, which brings challenges and assets to the district.

For instance, as the district prepares to roll out a new magnet lottery plan designed to increase socioeconomic diversity, officials must figure out how to communicate with families who come from 183 countries and speak 197 languages.

The top five this year are Spanish, Vietnamese, Arabic, French and Telugu. Telugu, which bumped Chinese off the top five list, is a Dravidian language spoken in southern India.

40,752 CMS students tallied as English as a second language

17,210 have limited proficiency

183 countries represented in CMS

197 languages spoken at home

The 40,752 students who come from homes where English isn’t the first language now make up 28 percent of the district’s 147, 157 students. Those who are classified as having limited English proficiency make up a much smaller slice of the student body: 17,210 students, including prekindergarteners.

Many call the district’s linguistic and cultural diversity a plus in a global society, where speaking a second language is an advantage for jobs and college admission.

Clayton Wilcox, announced last week as the school board’s choice to lead CMS next year, said students who speak Spanish or another language at home might need classes to hone their speaking and writing skills but are a step ahead of students without such exposure. Wilcox, whose grandparents came from Mexico, said the district can build on that strength.

Hispanic students, who make up 23 percent of CMS enrollment this year, are the fastest-growing demographic in CMS, driving much of the overall growth in recent years. While overall CMS enrollment increased by just over 1,000 this year, the number of students classified as “English as a second language” rose by 3,582.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

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