UTAH (ABC4) – Many Americans are aware of the issues with students falling behind due to COVID-19 and having to learn remotely or online.

This has created an issue for many students, but there is also another issue that is putting students behind. Students who are English language learners (ELL) are not only dealing with learning during a pandemic these last couple years, but also learning another language at the same time.

A teacher in Orem spoke with ABC4 about the difficulties and challenges she faces teaching these students this year.

“We are playing catch up with all our students,” she says. “Many of them are behind in literacy and other subjects. Many of them chose to do online instead of in-person, which put them behind in social interaction as well.”

Almost 6% of students in Utah schools are English language learners, with most of them being born in the states. ELL students commonly fall behind and some do not graduate. In Utah, 84% of students typically graduate, yet only 62% of ELL students graduate.

Utah has reported in the past a shortage of teachers for ELL students, but for now, that shortage has been filled. While teachers play a huge role in students learning, it’s also about being around their peers.

“Since many of my students are ELL students, I think they feel more comfortable when they see their peers in similar circumstances,” the Orem teacher remarked. “They’re more willing to take those risks in pushing themselves academically.”

San Juan and Salt Lake City school districts have some of the highest percentages of ELL students in Utah. ELL students account for nearly 20% of students in Salt Lake and 30% in San Juan County.

Most ELL students speak Spanish, accounting for nearly 80% of ELL students in Utah.

While some students chose to learn solely online, for ELL students who wanted to learn in-person, they were met with new difficulties.

“Social distancing and masks made the learning process for students difficult, but it definitely made it harder for ELL students not only trying to learn with their peers, but learn a language at the same time.” The Orem teacher said.

Many resources have now been made about how to handle and instruct these types of students in the classroom. Although students are making progress while back in the classroom, unfortunately it seems English language learning students will have to work twice as hard.