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Spanish Speaking Student Population Booming In Central Texas

Updated: Friday, August 29 2014, 08:23 PM CDT

The Spanish speaking student population is booming in Central Texas.  Many have dreams of going to college.

Iris Romero, 18, started her first week of college at the University of Texas.

"It's still really nerve racking especially since UT is so huge but I feel more confident than any other freshman would," Romero said.

But getting here wasn't easy -- no one in her family spoke English 13 years ago when her family moved to Texas from Mexico.

"For me starting elementary not knowing English was very difficult," Romero said.  "I even remember one time I went crying home because I didn't understand my math homework because I didn't understand English."

She carried the hope of her entire family on her shoulders in the face of adversity.

"Then one of my teachers took the time to actually, like, help me, so I'm very proficient in English and it actually did get better in middle school. I started to get A's," Romero said. 

Now Central Texas faces the challenge of teaching thousands of students like Romero.

E3 Alliance, an educational research nonprofit, says the English language learning population is booming -- flooding school districts with duel language students, 90 percent speak Spanish. 

"Over the past decade our ELL population in Central Texas has grown at 2.5 times the rate of all students in Central Texas or five times the rate of student growth in the State of Texas," said E3 President Susan Dawson.

Districts are scrambling to accommodate the growth. The Austin Independent School District currently has 63 dual language elementary schools. It's working to do the same in middle schools.

"The secondary area is more challenging area where there have been some inconsistencies," said AISD Bilingual Director Olivia Hernandez.  "Austin ISD at this time is developing a sheltered instruction model that would bring more consistency to the practices and delivery of instruction for English language learners across the district." 

The district can't hire Spanish teachers fast enough.  It started the school year with almost twenty vacancies.

With stretched resources districts are doing what they can to keep up, knowing these students hold promise and can compete at a higher level.

"What we found is that English language learners who have excelled in bilingual programs actually outperformed their peers who were never English language learners," said Dawson.  "Which makes sense -- we're asking them to learn subjects in two languages. 

Romero is the perfect example of that potential.

She recently got a scholarship through Taco Bell, where she works part-time. And even after her father died unexpectedly last year she continued to support her mother and sister all while keeping her grades up.

"He's buried in Mexico," Romero said.  "I wasn't able to go to his funeral or anything like that but at the end I think he would have wanted me to stay here with my sister and keep helping my mom." 

And realizing her family's dream of going to college against the odds.

Romero graduated high school in the top five percent of her class, securing her a spot as a future Texas Longhorn and a chance to give back to her community. 

By Walt Maciborski

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Spanish Speaking Student Population Booming In Central Texas

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