Class Sizes for English Skills Decrease in Hoover

Tiffany Ray, Birmingham (Alabama) News, March 30, 2008

After years of growth, enrollment in Hoover City Schools’ program for students with limited English proficiency has dropped for the first time.

School officials say it’s an indication that some immigrant families may be moving out of the city in search of jobs or more affordable housing.

Hoover’s English Language Learners program, which provides instruction to students who are not proficient in English, is among the largest statewide. The number of students in the program has increased every year since the school system’s inception in 1988. Between the 2002-03 and 2006-07 school years, ELL enrollment increased 77 percent in Hoover, compared with 63 percent statewide.

This year, despite a larger student population overall, the number of English language learners in Hoover declined. According to state data, there were 734 such students in Hoover schools last year.

A recent internal report shows 714 students now, said Barbara Mayer, director of instructional support for Hoover schools.

Although the most current numbers show only a slight decline, last year’s enrollment was as high as 815 at one point.

And halfway through the current school year, the number of ELL students had dropped to 651, Mayer said.

Hoover school officials say they don’t know why enrollment is down, but anecdotal information from teachers and others suggests immigrant families may be leaving Hoover for economic reasons—to purchase homes in more affordable communities, or to find lower rent.

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Hispanic students represent more than half of Hoover’s ELL students. Bullock said 40 or so families visited the center in December and January seeking help to pay rent.

“They can’t afford to pay the rent if they’re not working,” she said.

Dr. Robert Parsa, who operates QuickCare Family Medicine, said business at his clinic, which serves a large number of Hispanic patients, has leveled off in recent months after three years of consecutive increases.

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In some cases, men are leaving the Birmingham area for work and returning home to their families on weekends, Parsa said.

In others, entire families have moved away.

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