Baltimore County schools are rapidly adding students. More than half are immigrants or speak another language. -Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County’s school system is absorbing a wave of immigrants that has fueled rising enrollments the past few years, adding thousands of students who teachers say are enriching their schools but also stretching the system to find additional seats and new ways to teach them.

Just since Oct. 1, more than 900 new students have enrolled in the county school system — and 710 of them spoke English only as a second language, if at all.

The county school system has grown steadily over the past decade, a sign, Interim Superintendent Verletta White likes to say, that the system is successful and attractive to parents. But the large numbers of new students are also taxing the system’s facilities.

Change came quickly to Bedford Elementary, a small brick school set squarely in a neighborhood of modest, single-family homes inside the Beltway near Liberty Road. Just a few years ago, there were 15 students whose native tongue was not English. After an influx of Africans from French-speaking countries as well as Nigerians, that number has almost tripled to 42, or 11 percent of students at the small elementary school.

At first, the teachers taught those new students using the same techniques they used for everyone else. Now classroom teachers are learning how to incorporate information in their lessons that can benefit those whose native tongue isn’t English. This school year, teachers are adding pictures, graphs and charts to their lessons to provide students with information they can grasp without a lot of English vocabulary. Christina Connolly, Bedford’s principal, said the school is still working through the issues associated with teaching immigrants, but she believes it has begun to make progress.

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