With the highest percentage of non-English speaking students in the state, the Pascagoula-Gautier School District has recognized the need for resources to help students learn English.
Not only would it help students with a language barrier, officials said it could also help the school district with test scores and statewide school rankings.
The State Farm Insurance Agency Neighborhood Assist grant program on Wednesday awarded the school district a $25,000 grant to help that cause. The program held an online contest where people could vote for their favorite ideas that benefited communities across the country. About 1.8 million votes were cast, and the top 40 causes each received a $25,000 grant.
The district will use the money for the creation of a bilingual lending library, which will focus on kindergarten-readiness needs of Hispanic children in the community.
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Hispanic people make up close to 20 percent of the Pascagoula area’s population, the district’s grant application said, and 9 percent of students are learning English.
Pascagoula-Gautier schools spokeswoman Debbie Anglin said the district has a much higher percentage of non-English speaking students than other schools in Mississippi, which has made it difficult for the district to score well on exams in English proficiency.
“Our district is an anomaly,” Anglin said. “We have more Hispanic students than anywhere else in the state, and we’ve had limited resources for our Hispanic population.”
According to Mississippi Department of Education data, the district has almost 18 percent Hispanic students, compared with the state average of less than 5 percent.
Kelli McCorkle, director of early learning for the school district, said the grant money will be geared primarily for kindergarten readiness of students, but also will be used for English-speaking students interested in learning Spanish, and for Spanish-speaking parents to learn English.
She said the district will purchase bi-lingual books, Chromebooks, iPads and software to assist students. A listening area will be provided to promote bilingual literacy. The library will work closely with the school district staff to ensure the needs of students.
“This library will build a lasting relationship between the school district, community and Hispanic population. It’ll help establish a stronger community that values culture and language,” McCorkle said.
The Pascagoula-Gautier School District is the only district in the state to have been awarded the State Farm grant. It’s the only Coast school to win a State Farm grant since the program started six years ago, Brenda Simkins, State Farm agent for Pascagoula said.