NewsLocal News


Charter school looks to provide opportunity for non-English speaking students in Billings

Charter School
Posted at 5:34 PM, Jan 31, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-01 13:16:57-05

Billings Public Schools will add three new charter schools at the beginning of the 2024-25 school year, including one that aims to provide better opportunities for the district's non-English speaking students.

The charter, which will be called the Multilingual Academy, is an attempt to reach a population that has grown substantially in the past five years. It will also serve at least 50 refugee students, who are set to arrive in March.

Those refugee students will come from Afghanistan, Iraq, Honduras and Venezuela and will be the first wave of refugees brought to Billings after the city was approved by the state to become Montana's second resettlement city, following Missoula.

Chris Olszewski. Billings schools assistant superintendent for K-12 curriculum, said the Multilingual Academy is a perfect example of what charter schools aim to do.

"The whole purpose of a charter is to be able to do something innovative," Olszewski said. "Then, you want to do it with less funding and have some variances."

Olszewski said the charter school, which will be held on the fourth floor of the Lincoln Center, will fill a huge need in the district, as the number of non-English speaking students has increased around 1,600 percent over the past five years.

"We went from 25 students five or six years ago to now being close to 400," Olszewski said. "So we needed to do something different."

Olszewski said that increase is partly from families that would come through the area to work on farms during the harvest, but also because Billings has multiple job opportunities and relatively inexpensive housing.

He said between that increase and the refugee families arriving in March, the district knew something needed to be done. The refugee families will arrive about two months later than originally expected.

“The estimate right now, is we’re expecting at least 50 students, and that could grow over the next year," Olszewski said. "The original plan was in January, now they’re coming more in March. Part of that delay was the housing market. Trying to bring those families together as opposed to placing them all over town."

As of now, the Multilingual Academy will be offered to middle school and high school-aged students. It will be available to both migrant students currently in the district and any refugee students moving in.

Olszewski said the plan was to offer one class session in the morning and one in the afternoon to help provide enough space. The students will attend their regular school during the other parts of their day.

"I'm looking at, between the middle school and high school, 30 to 50 students being here in the morning," Olszewski said. "Then, approximately another 50 students here during the day."

It's an innovative strategy that Olszewski said has one major goal in mind.

"Our goal is to help them to obtain the skills in English to be able to move forward with their other goals," Olszewski said.