Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

Thousands of international students enroll in classes

E-mail this article \ Print this article

Chris Rossi⁄The Gazette
Rosa Orellana, 7, of Silver Spring (foreground) waits as her mother, Rosa, (right) and Lelis Benitez of Silver Spring (center) register their children for school with Jenny Herrera, an intake specialist in the MCPS International Student Admission Office in Rockville.
Henok Adbaru, 13, and his brother, Haron, 6, look like any other school children getting ready to start the new school year.

But Henok, originally from Ethiopia, has been attending school in Norway. Now living in Takoma Park, he was excited about starting school in the United States.

‘‘I want to see what the difference is here between school in Norway,” Henok said.

Haron was a little more apprehensive. He started school in Norway last year but had no idea what to expect entering second grade at Takoma Park Elementary.

The Adbaru brothers and their mother, Worku Hirut, had just completed the school enrollment process at the Montgomery County Public School International Student Admissions Office.

The office was a very busy place this month because all students coming to Montgomery County Public Schools from schools outside the country enroll there. Even American students returning after attending school abroad are reprocessed through the International Student Admissions Office as are foreign students coming to study as exchange students. Last year more than 6,400 international students attended county public schools, according to Nivea Berrios, director of the International Student Admissions Office.

‘‘This is our peak enrollment period,” Berrios said. ‘‘From the end of July through the beginning of September we work from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.”

The office stays open late for the convenience of working parents, she said.

On one day earlier this month, 76 students from 34 different countries had appointments — a typical load, Berrios said, and that’s not counting the walk-ins.

‘‘We have learned from experience that we have to have a program in place to ensure you give parents service,” Berrios said. ‘‘We want the kids in school on the first day.”

To meet that need Berrios has a summertime staff of 16 intake counselors who, altogether, are conversant in 19 different languages. Spanish and French are the major languages used by students new to county schools, she said.

Many of the students, including Jose Ventura, 7, and Rosa Orellana, 7, both from El Salvador, are anxious to learn English when they start school. Already, Jose and Rosa can count from one to 10 in English, as they were happy to demonstrate.

All that is needed to start the enrollment process is proof of Montgomery County residency, documents showing the age of the child and proof that the enrolling adult is the child’s legal guardian.

Parents often arrive with more than they need.

‘‘People are so happy to be here, they are very excited and want to get their kids in school,” Nodis Elvir said as she was greeting parents and children and getting them started on their way to school.

After the initial interview, students are sent to the English for Speakers of Other Languages office for language testing, then to the School Health Services Center to be sure they have all of the immunizations required by the State of Maryland.

The system surprised Albert Waolo, who was enrolling his four children who had just arrived from Senegal.

‘‘In my country we don’t have a process like this. You just go to the school and enroll the students,” Waolo said.

That is true here too, if a family changes neighborhoods or even states, but coming from a school in another country is more complicated, according to Berrios.

‘‘We have [it centralized] to expedite the enrollment process,” she said. ‘‘We are experts on reading transcripts and interpreting grading scales so we can ensure each child is placed in the proper grade.”