There are now 109 non-English speaking students in the Belmond-Klemme school district. But the biggest challenge facing many of the students may not be a language barrier; it could be the memories of the war-torn countries they left behind.
A number of students have come from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, Central American countries that are mired in political instability, drug cartel violence and civil unrest.
“We have heard some shocking and appalling stories from these kids,” Superintendent Dan Frazier told the school board earlier this month. “They have seen gang violence and murder right near their homes. These students have a lot of social and emotional needs.”
Ann Plagge, who is in her second year as guidance counselor at Jacobson Elementary School, said even the youngest of students are affected by the extreme violence. She told of the day that a delivery truck arrived at school, and some of the new kindergarteners were convinced they would be loaded into the truck and taken back to their homeland. “They were crying, shaking and cowering in the corners,” she said. “There is a lot of mistrust and fear.” Plagge said she and Principal Mark Young helped comfort the children until the truck left.
Ethan Albertson, guidance counselor at the junior/senior high school, said he is sure some of the older students had similar experiences, but they don’t talk about it. “Every one of these students have their own fears,” Albertson said.
Frazier said he will likely be asking the school board to hire more ELL (English Language Learners) staff to help these students with their language needs, as well as social/emotional issues.
Both guidance counselors talked with the school board about their programs at the May 9 meeting.
Plagge said she presents twice-weekly lessons on positive self-talk and resiliency to the elementary students, as well as teaching table manners to kindergarteners and first graders. She said most of her time is spent in individual counseling, and that she has seen 44 percent of the elementary students in one-on-one sessions this year.
The elementary school will start daily social/emotional lessons when the new school year starts in August. In addition, there will be social/emotional lessons during summer school.
Plagge also reviewed the food backpack program that is sponsored by Eaton Corp. This year there have been up to 54 students who receive the Friday afternoon food backpack. Currently, there 42 students who have food for the weekend delivered anonymously to their lockers.