English-Language Learners Video

Witnessing Change in a ‘Little Town for Latinos’: An English Learner’s Journey

By Lauren Santucci & Ileana Najarro — January 30, 2023 2:48
Brian Santos, a senior at Russellville High School in Russellville, Ala., stands for a portrait at the school Dec. 9, 2022.

Over the last decade, the town of Russellville, Ala., has seen a huge growth in its Spanish-speaking population. A quarter of all students in the Russellville City Schools district are English learners. And in the last ten years, the percentage of English-learner students statewide has doubled. In response, the Russellville school district has created a robust English-learner program and hired 10 bilingual aides, funded largely by pandemic relief dollars.

Born in Russellville to immigrant parents from El Salvador, Brian Santos started as an EL student in the district. When he entered kindergarten, the district lacked the dedicated support and resources for English learners that they have today. Santos’ teachers supported his language learning by reading easy books with him. Now a high school senior, Santos plans to give back to his community through a career as an HVAC technician.

Dive Into the Project

PART 1 | A Burgeoning Success Story: In one small Alabama city, prioritizing English learners is the new normal. Learn how the district's efforts have paid off.

PART 2 | Gains Under Threat: With funding unstable and major challenges facing secondary students, Russellville’s English learner journey remains tenuous.

Why Support for English Learners Matters: A bilingual aide now provides the support she didn't get as a former English learner. Read her story.

In a Teacher's Own Words: Teachers need the right mindset to help English learners—but district leaders set the stage.

The Growth of English Learners, in Charts: Explore the data on the growth of Hispanic students and English learners nationwide over time.

Witnessing Change in a 'Little Town for Latinos': Born in Russellville, Ala., to immigrant parents from El Salvador, an English learner reflects on his journey in this video.

Lauren Santucci
Video Producer
As a video producer, Lauren Santucci produces, films, and edits meaningful, human-interest digital video and works closely with Education Week editors and reporters. Prior to joining Education Week in 2022, she produced videos for Al Jazeera, FRONTLINE PBS, and The Texas Tribune. She has a master’s degree in visual journalism from Ohio University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
Ileana Najarro is a reporter for Education Week covering race and opportunity in schools across the country.

Coverage of race, opportunity, and equity is supported in part by a grant from The Wallace Foundation, at www.wallacefoundation.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.


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