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Number of Hispanic students in Alabama rises 11 percent

BIRMINGHAM (AP) — The number of Hispanic students enrolled in Alabama public schools rose by 11 percent during the 2006-2007 school year and some systems are creating summer programs to help the students succeed in the state's classrooms.

There were 20,386 Hispanic students enrolled in the state's school districts during the 2005-2006 school year and that number rose to 23,219 in the 2006-2007 session, enrollment figures show.

The state's overall K-12 enrollment was 739,760 and Hispanics made up slightly more than 3 percent. But that percentage was far higher at some school systems, primarily those in North Alabama, and officials at some said they expected even higher numbers of Hispanic students in the coming year. Others said the numbers seemed to be leveling off.

At DeKalb County's Crossville Elementary School, where about 50 percent of the nearly 900 students in 2006-07 were Hispanic, principal Martha Smith said early enrollment for next year's kindergarten has totaled 126 and a majority are Hispanic.

Crossville had about 170 kindergartners in 2006-07, but Smith said there could be more than 200 in the fall.

In Blount County, where Hispanics totaled 9 percent of the overall enrollment in the just- ended school year, assistant School Superintendent Rodney Green said Hispanics figure in the increased numbers the system expects in the fall.

"We're expecting our overall enrollment to go up about 200 ...," Green said. "Now how many of those will be Hispanic, that'd be really hard for me to say."

The Blount County system added an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in 2006-07, and now has eight ESL teachers as well as a home-school liaison who works with Hispanic families, a tutor and a part-time aide.

At Albertville, the Hispanic share of the city system's enrollment rose 1 percent in 2006-2007 to 27 percent. And though the system's number of Hispanic students passed 1,000 for the first time, officials there don't anticipate drastic increases.

"I don't see a lot more growth," new Superintendent Ric Ayer said.

Jefferson County's and Shelby County's school systems both recorded double-digit jumps in their Hispanic numbers in 2006-07. The Jefferson County system had 1,108 Hispanic students, up 22 percent from the 906 students the previous year. Shelby schools had 1,651, a 20 percent jump from 1,371 students the previous year.

Some of the schools are now offering programs to help the Hispanic students with their grasp of English and assist them with other transitional changes.

In northwest Alabama, Russellville city schools have already started a three-week enrichment program for pre-kindergartners. George Harper, an administrative assistant to Superintendent Wayne Ray, said the enrichment classes include nearly 90 Hispanic children, up from about 62 last year.

"That's by far the highest number we've ever had," Harper said.

In 1991, Russellville's four schools had three students who could be called Hispanic, members of a Cuban-American family who were "as American as you can get," Harper said.

In 2006-2007, Hispanics made up 27 percent of the system's 2,387 students, according to state enrollment figures. Their overall number, 636, was up 10 percent from 2005-06.

"It's almost like you dropped us in another country and suddenly gave us a new set of students," said Harper, who added that Russellville is hoping to add an ESL teacher to the four units it already has.

"We're still trying to produce at the level that we were when we had a lot different demographics, and so far we're succeeding pretty well," he said.

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Information from: The Birmingham News

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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