When the First ELLs Show Up in Your District...

By Mary Ann Zehr — July 22, 2008 1 min read
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In Appalachia, a lot of school districts have enrolled English-language learners in the past ten years that had no experience with such students, according to a report about ELLs in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia that was just released by the Institute of Education Sciences. Many of those districts initially have taken a piecemeal approach to providing help for such students. They struggle to hire people with language skills to communicate with parents and to find educators who have training in how to work with ELLs, for example.

The report, “Preparing to Serve English Language Learner Students: School Districts with Emerging English Language Learner Communities,” documents how some school districts have moved beyond an ad hoc approach to a more comprehensive, integrated approach.

What’s very useful, I think, is how the report spells out the components that school districts need to be addressing, whether they have a handful of ELLs or 50 ELLs. These areas include staffing, curriculum, registration procedures, identification of ELLs, and reaching out to parents. (See Table 3 on page 14.) The report also lists 14 documents available that are designed to help school districts with no experience in working with ELLs to put systems in place to help them. If I were an educator in a district that has just begun to serve ELLs, I would jump on those.

The report makes the point that after the first student with limited proficiency in English enrolls in a district, the enrollment of such students often grows quickly in the following years, and school district officials need to get up to speed quickly. I’ve reported a couple of times on the challenges that rural school districts face in receiving ELLs. See “Newcomers Bring Change, Challenge to the Region,” and “ESL Students Pose a Special Challenge For Rural Schools.”

I’ve learned in my reporting that it can take some rural school districts a VERY long time to move beyond an ad hoc approach. And I’ve found things often are moved along by one lone educator with a strong backbone who consistently advocates for ELLs. This report is touching on a subject that definitely needs attention.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.