DPS may use closed school for English learners program; meetings next week

Jennie Valdez, speaking, and her husband, Andres Valdez, speak on the importance of having a central school for English language learners. Courtesy of Dayton Public Schools.

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Jennie Valdez, speaking, and her husband, Andres Valdez, speak on the importance of having a central school for English language learners. Courtesy of Dayton Public Schools.

A Dayton Public Schools administrator on Tuesday detailed a proposal to reopen the closed World of Wonder pre K-8 school on Oakridge Drive to create a central school specifically for students who don’t speak English as a first language.

People from the neighborhood pushed back on the proposal at Tuesday’s school board meeting, saying they were not approached to talk about reopening the school, at 4411 Oakridge Drive.

Three public community forums on the topic are scheduled — Monday at 6 p.m. at the former World of Wonder building (also referred to as WoW, or Residence Park); April 27 at 10 a.m. virtually and April 27 at 6 p.m. at World of Wonder.

Rachel Underwood, academic coordinator for K-12 English learners at Dayton Public Schools, presented at the DPS board meeting on Tuesday night. Underwood said Dayton’s immigrant population is growing and is second only to Columbus City Schools in the percentage of total students who are English learners.

The district has not voted on the proposal nor is it finalized.

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Underwood said some of those students come in speaking a few words of English or none. Some may have missed schooling in their home countries for a variety of reasons.

Many of the English language learners speak Spanish, she said, but some are from Afghanistan, Somalia or other countries.

Underwood estimated between 300 and 400 students would be attending the school, and support staff would be needed to run it, including several English Language teachers, a principal, a nurse and other building staff. It would have to be flexible and responsive to international relations.

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Dayton Public Schools' World of Wonder school at Residence Park

Credit: STAFF PHOTO

Dayton Public Schools' World of Wonder school at Residence Park

Credit: STAFF PHOTO

Combined ShapeCaption
Dayton Public Schools' World of Wonder school at Residence Park

Credit: STAFF PHOTO

Credit: STAFF PHOTO

“For a program like this to be successful, it has to be responsive to the outside factors that impact our city,” Underwood said.

Multiple families and community members expressed their support for the plan. Jennie Valdez and her husband, Andres Valdez, said they would like to see a program like this in Dayton Public Schools. Jennie Valdez said her husband is not a native English speaker and they have two kids who are in DPS currently and one who graduated in 2016.

“The prospect of a place where EL children can come, a place where they can feel comfortable and receive the language and education skills they would need to, not just to survive but to be successful in an American school, also made me very excited,” Jennie Valdez said.

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But while DPS Board President Will Smith expressed support for the plan, he said he also had concerns because the community around the school, Residence Park, hasn’t been included in the initial discussions. He said his concerns were addressed a little bit by the fact that public forums will be held soon.

Smith said that three years ago, World of Wonder was closed due to low attendance at a time when it actually had a higher number of students than what was discussed Tuesday. World of Wonder’s enrollment dropped after a May 2016 stabbing at the school. But after falling to 312 in December 2017, enrollment had bounced back to 406 in April 2019, just before the school closed.

“What I would not want to create in our district is an ‘us versus them’ feeling that happens when it feels like —and not intentionally — when it feels like I was put on the back burner for someone else,” Smith said.

Residence Park neighborhood association vice president Terri M. Sims said she and the neighborhood organization had not yet been approached on the subject and wanted to be part of the discussions.

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