Among students learning English in Burbank, there are more Armenian speakers than Spanish, school officials say

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For the first time in Burbank schools, there are more English learners who speak Armenian than there are those who speak Spanish.

Burbank school officials discussed the district’s effort to help English learners develop their skills during last week’s school board meeting, when Jennifer Goldenberg, a teacher on special assignment, reported the uptick of students whose family’s first language is Armenian.

Of the more than 1,700 students learning English in Burbank schools this year, 38% speak Armenian while 37% speak Spanish

Another 7% speak Arabic, 4% speak Russian, and 3% speak Tagalog, according to a language census officials executed last October.

One percent of English learners in Burbank schools speak Korean, while another 10% speak other languages.

Of the roughly 15,000 students across Burbank schools, 61% of students speak only English at home, Goldenberg said.

“We have a diverse city — it’s really awesome,” she told the school board.

In all, there are about 500 fewer English learners in Burbank schools than there were a decade ago.

Across the state, districts that have more than 50 English learners must form a District English Learner Advisory Committee, or DELAC.

The committee advises the school board and administration about programs that support English learners.

In Burbank, the committee is adamant about keeping parents in the loop about programming decisions — and when and why students can or cannot be “reclassified” from an English learner to “proficient.”

“I like that we’re elevating our DELAC parents and making sure they’re as heard as can be,” said Steve Ferguson, board president. “Empowering them in a real way is so profound.”

Goldenberg said one popular program teaches educators how to apply strategies for helping English learners understand their studies as they relate to history, science or other subjects — not just focusing on language development.

School officials implemented the program this past year to assist students who are in kindergarten through fifth grade, with hopes to expand it for students in secondary school.

Burbank school officials also work with parents whose children may have arrived in Burbank from another country and are in the 11th or 12th grade.

Those students may be able to graduate from Burbank or John Burroughs high school if the district authorizes a fifth-year of high school. Parents often agree to that approach, Goldenberg said.

School board member Armond Aghakhanian, who said he was an English learner when he moved to the U.S. years ago, told Goldenberg he’s heard the impact the district has made with English learners.

“I’m hearing nothing but positive feedback from members of the community,” he said.

To read the article in Spanish, click here

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