Taft HS sees large influx of English Learners including students from Ukraine, South America
by BRIAN NADIG
Taft High School has experienced a 53-percent increase in the number of its English Learners in the past year due in part to new students from Ukraine and South America.
Taft, whose total enrollment is about 4,250, has 844 students enrolled in its English Learners Program compared to 550 last school year. The program is intended for students whose home language is not English and who are still learning English.
Since July 1, Taft has enrolled 125 English Learners, including 49 who previously had never attended a public school in Chicago, according to assistant principal Eric Flores. Also 231 of Taft’s English Learners attended a public elementary school in the city.
Taft has 152 students from Ukraine, but details of the number of new arrivals from South America was not available.
The home languages for the EL students include Ukrainian, Spanish and Arabic. There knowledge of English varies over a wide spectrum, administrators said.
Taft students speak more than 50 different home languages.
In other school news, Taft principal Mark Grishaber said that the negative impact of at-home learning during the pandemic seems to be wearing off. Last fall he said that the school was at a tipping point with too many disciplinary issues, such as students roaming the hallways instead of being in class.
“This has been the best start in the 10 years I’ve been here,” Grishaber said at the Sept. 12 meeting of the Taft Local School Council. “There’s the normal stuff, (but) these kids are happy (and) want to be at Taft. … It’s like pre-pandemic.”
The school has allocated additional counseling and other resources to better address the socio-emotional issues affecting students.
Grishaber added that students are given expectations and that seniors could miss out on homecoming, prom and graduation if certain goals are not met.
At the Oct. 10 LSC meeting, the council approved Taft’s 2024-26 Continuous Improvement Work Plan. The plan, which is voted on every three years, includes staff and student development strategies and goals.
One of plan’s priorities calls for strengthening student “connectedness and well-being.” It recommends promoting a shared sense of responsibility for creating a safe and welcoming environment, building “Eagle spirit” and promoting a sense of community through celebration and awareness of the school’s diversity.
Also at the meeting, LSC parent member Paul Connolly raised concerns that Taft does not require swimming as part of its physical education program and that the existing pool is not conducive for swim meet competition.
Connolly said that for some children, high school is the only place where they can learn to swim. “It’s an important part of growing up,” he said.
Swimming is normally offered to freshmen, but Taft’s freshman campus at 4071 N. Oak Park Ave. does not have a pool, and the pool on the varsity campus at 6530 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. is too small to accommodate many gym classes, which can have as many as 40 students, according to administrators.
Aquatics is offered as an elective, but only a handful of students normally sign up, Flores said. The school plans to continue to offer an aquatics option.
Grishaber said that the school system has looked into enlarging the school’s existing pool and that he also has sought an Olympic-size pool for the freshman campus. “The selective enrollment schools have the nicest pools,” he said.
There are plans for a new pool that could be available to multiple schools, but Taft is not considered not centrally located enough, Grishaber said.
“That’s always been a passion of mine,” Grishaber said of getting a new pool for Taft.