As demographics change in West Vancouver, the number of English language learners in the district is increasing – particularly among youngest primary grade students.
More than 1,100 students – about 21 per cent of students who attend West Vancouver public schools - are ELL students.
That’s almost a six per cent increase over last year, which saw a 13 per cent increase over the year before.
According to Ministry of Education statistics, there are about 300 more ELL students in West Vancouver now than there were four years ago.
While those numbers are small compared to some school districts, they do indicate a trend, said Maria Yioldassis, the ELL co-ordinator for West Vancouver schools.
Most of the new students are from families who have emigrated from areas like mainland China and who can afford to live in neighbourhoods like West Vancouver’s British Properties.
West Vancouver schools’ reputation for academic excellence also plays a part in where families choose to live, said Yioldassis.
For immigrants with financial means “people are making educated choices in terms of where they live and where they educate their children.
“They do their research,” she said. “If they can pick the school, they’ll pick the school.”
Growth in numbers of ELL students has primarily been concentrated in the eastern areas of the district – at schools like Chartwell, Westcot, Hollyburn, Ridgeview and Irwin Park.
Chartwell and Hollyburn have the highest proportion of ELL students – at about 48 per cent. Numbers of students learning English has also been much higher among the youngest primary grade children than among older students.
According to Ministry of Education data, between 30 and 34 per cent of students in kindergarten to Grade 3 are ELL students at West Vancouver schools. In the case of kindergarten students, that’s double what it was four years ago.
“They’re getting into the school system a lot earlier,” Yioldassis said of the latest wave of new immigrant ELL students. She said a benefit of that is that students pick up the academic vocabulary they need young, which helps them do well in school later on.
When students first arrive, they are assessed to determine their level of English proficiency. Students who need more help get more intense support, said Yioldassis, which might happen both in the classroom and in special sessions for ELL students.
The majority of new immigrant families are from mainland China. While English is still the dominant home language in West Vancouver, Mandarin now makes up the home language of 12 per cent of students, compared to seven per cent of students whose home language is Persian.
West Vancouver has 16 ELL specialist teachers who work in the elementary schools.
Yioldassis said most parents appreciate the help their kids get, especially when the process of learning English is explained to them. “Some kids get things fast. Some people take longer.”