Since 2009, the Bryant school system has added 75 students to its English as a Second Language program, and it ia projected that this student population will continue to grow, said Sarah Merayo, ESL coordinator.
Bryant High School has the largest ESL program, with 65 students participating. Springhill Elementary has 55 ESL students.
Among her duties as ELC coordinator, Merayo works as liaison between the families of ESL students and the schools. She often serves as interpreter, but hires bilingual Bryant residents for large projects where an interpreter is needed.
She also provides support to teachers of ELS students.
"They have been very receptive toward the ESL children," Merayo said. "We have to disregard any viewpoints we have on where they came from.
"It's my goal for these kids to feel like they belong just as much as any student."
Cultural training/integration is a part of her job that Merayo said she takes seriously.
Although most of the ESL children speak Spanish, there are other languages represented in the program. In fact, there are students from Panama, Vietnam, Korea, Mexico and Guatemala just in Merayo's class at the high school.
Not all bilingual students in the Bryant School district are in the ESL program. There are 475 bilingual students in the district.
School board member Rhonda Sanders said she is acquainted wtih a physician who is well-connected in the hispanic community. "He continues to say they love to come to Bryant. Their needs are met, and they are treated well," Sanders said.
Several board members lauded Merayo's efforts.
"She does a fine job as the voice of the hispanic community in the area," said Debbie Bruick, assistant superintendent.
"There is no more passionate person," said Randy Rutherford, superintendent.