ELL program to get infusion of texts and tech

by Jim Boyle
The Elk River Area School District’s English Language Learner (ELL) program serves 400 students who bring 40 different home languages to the table.
Seven ELL full-time teachers and their assistants work to develop these students’ social and academic English until they can integrate completely into the general education population.

ELL students share at potluck Hassan Elementary hosted on Oct. 6 its fourth annual English Language Learner (ELL) potluck. The families brought in food to share from their culture. Along with the food, the families had an opportunity to participate in folk dancing, make a yarn octopus, a mask and paper plate animals. The families also received a family picture that was taken at the event. Northwest Suburban Integration School District (NWSISD) had a representative to distribute parenting information to families. The event attracted about 60 people.

It’s not an easy assignment, especially when they must operate without the same advantages of regular education teachers, such as a language arts textbook for every ELL teacher. But the program is succeeding and about to get even better after Monday night’s Elk River Area School Board meeting.
The School Board approved more than $60,000 in expenditures for a mixture of print-based and technology-based resources.
The Elk River Area School District is one of very few school districts to have met its Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives (AMAO) for two consecutive years, according to Joe Stangler, the administrator of testing and assessment. The AMAO is a requirement of No Child Left Behind, and it speaks to three things. They are:
•Annual progress in learning English
•Attainment of English language proficiency
•Reaching academic standards in language arts and mathematics
“These folks have been scrambling for resources, and to have ended up meeting standards that all school districts haven’t is a tribute to those of you who have been working with our kids,” said school board member Jane Bunting, who embraced the proposal that’s part of the program’s curriculum review process.
Bunting expressed excitement about the potential to build on these measurable successes with the addition of a technology component. The plan calls for each elementary and middle school to have two iPads and for qualifying high schools to have five each. Each school also will have an additional LCD projector added to give the ELL program the access it needs.
The most common languages used by ELL students are Russian, Spanish and Hmong, but there are 40 different home languages represented.
Elk River schools receive about five to 10 students who are termed new to country each year, Stangler estimated. “New to Country” is an accountability term used to described the first 12 months a student is in an English-speaking school.
These students often have social, emotional and cultural needs that need to be met in addition to the language issues.
To qualify for ELL, students must have a home language that is different from English and need help to reach grade level. It might only take six months to two years for an ELL student to gain the necessary social language, but it takes five to seven years to achieve the academic language sought.
The goal is to stay in alignment with the rest of the education population, so they are adopting Treasures (elementary), Inside (Middle School) and Edge (High School) for their language arts textbook series.
Because the need for textbooks fluctuates, the plan is to create a library so the print-based resources can be shared, Stangler said.
The request for resources amounts on average to $150 per student, which has been budgeted in the 2010–11 school budget.
“This sounds like something that makes a lot of sense,” Bunting said of the expense.