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Dealing with changing classrooms

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HAMILTON COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -

Students inside Matt Hicks' 4th grade class at East Side Elementary School are learning some new vocabulary words. 

Most of the kids in this classroom are learning English as a second language. 

They're some of the 2,800 students in Hamilton County's English for Speakers of other Languages Program, or ESOL. Most of those speak Spanish. 

"You notice kids, especially if they've come from another country, are basically silent for the first six months to a year because most of what you're saying, they don't know," Hicks said.

The ESOL program teaches students English based on their needs. Those needs are determined through a state assessment. 

READ MORE | Hamilton County's ESOL Program 

Teachers like Marisol Jimenez guide students through sessions. She understands what it's like to grow up with English as a second language. 

"I had to translate. I had to help mom out, go pay the house payment, the water bill, the light bill. So I could connect with my students and that's why I became an ESL teacher," she added. 

While teachers like Jimenez focus on helping ESOL students, interpreters like Paula Ball focus on communicating with their parents.

"In our school, we have many, many parents or families that want to come here because they know they have someone they can talk to at all times," Ball said. 

That relationship helps parents feel more comfortable and goes a long way with parent involvement. 

"It takes face to face communication. It takes meetings with families and a smile. When you have a smile on your face and parents come in that room, they feel welcome. So communication is the key," she added. 

The number of ESOL students in Hamilton County has nearly doubled in the last five years, making the need for more positions critical. 

Which is why the school system wants to invest $559,000 in seven new positions next year. 

"As a teacher you have to make a real concerted effort to teach the language first because even if they know math, if they can't understand what the problem is asking, the numbers don't really matter," Hicks added. 

And give students the tools they need to be successful. 

School Patrol

David Carroll covers education news and issues at schools across the Tennessee Valley.

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