SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Santa Fe Public Schools District has seen a dramatic increase in Spanish-speaking-only students. The number of those students is expected to keep growing. Now, the district needs more bilingual teachers, so it is offering an initiative to recruit them.

Emma Villegas is an algebra teacher at Capital High School in Santa Fe, but in her free time she’s a student. She’s going back to college to learn Spanish, so she can speak with her Spanish-speaking students. She knows firsthand how hard it is to be a student and not speak English.

“I can feel the struggle of my students because me, personally, I’m not a native English speaker, so I can see how they struggle,” said Villegas.

Santa Fe Public Schools Executive Director of Language and Culture Stephanie Nieto said there are 3,500 students who are English learners and the number keeps growing.

“We’re receiving students who are newcomers, coming from outside of the United States, so this is another effort that we’re doing it in order to meet those needs,” said Nieto.

This is why the school district came up with a new initiative to train teachers to teach English as a second language or lead bilingual classrooms. Currently, there are 18 teachers who are taking classes at either Santa Fe Community College or New Mexico Highlands University, which the district is paying for.

“I know that we have a lot of teachers who are wanting to ensure that they’re meeting the needs of every student in their classroom, so this is a great opportunity,” said Nieto.   

Villegas said she started taking classes at New Mexico Highlands University last year and will finish her training this Spring. She has seen how it is benefiting her students.

“Always tell them, I feel you, I know what you feel, so you can express whatever you want to say if you need something, if you have something to say, say it,” said Villegas.

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The district is also working on a Biliteracy Task Force Committee with the goal to learn what the community would like to see in bilingual education at Santa Fe Public Schools.