Northlake Elementary School teacher Maria Bueno said growing up speaking Spanish, she had to work much harder to learn at school.

Bueno grew up in a Hispanic household and said she benefited from the English Language Learner, or ELL, program at the time.

Almost 5 million students in the United States are learning English as a second language.While the program known as ESL has helped millions of children transition to life in the U.S., some families say their children have been incorrectly placed.

Now Bueno, who teaches third and fourth grade, said she tries to incorporate Spanish and English into her everyday class so students can get confidence and Hispanic students feel represented.

“I’ve been working with ELL my whole life, so I know a lot of the struggles the kids go through,” she said.

Equipped with empathy and new technologies, Longview educators are using updated methods to teach students’ whose first language is not English.

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Meeting the needs

The district identifies students who may need the ELL program through a survey they ask parents to fill out before the school year. About 7% of Longview School District students are identified as English Language Learners, according to data from the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Longview schools improving services for English language learners as more students enter program

Students in the program have at least 30 designated minutes for the ELL class, either with a certified teacher or a specially trained paraeducator.

The district evaluates the students each year to see where they are in their learning, said Director of State and Federal Programs Amy Neiman. In 2018-19, the most recent year with available data, 43% of ELL students in Longview were making progress, and 10% met or surpassed the standard.

Neiman said, in years past, having a first language outside of English may have been considered a weakness. Today, that has changed.

“We’re trying to focus more on being strength-based, where maybe old school would be more of deficit-based … but we’re just trying to help them to see their multilingualism as a strength,” Neiman said.

Neiman said the district added more “sheltered” English language arts classes directed toward students who are still learning English so they can learn curriculum as well as the language.

New technology also helps English Language Learners understand the curriculum. Some applications on students’ school-issued laptops or tablets, in real time, interpret what their instructor is saying into their first language.

Bueno said another focus has been on the social-emotional aspect.

Longview schools consider dual-language program

During the pandemic, when many students struggled with stress and behavioral challenges, Bueno said there has been a push to make sure students feel that they are being seen as an individual with diverse learning needs.

“If somebody’s struggling on something, the possibility they might need a little reinforcement or even just touching up on it won’t hurt them,” Bueno said.

Many students see success and are able to transition out of the ELL program, Neiman said. The district will monitor the students’ progress for several years after they finish and become multilingual learners.

“We’re trying to be more sensitive to what’s available to help kids bridge the gap between perhaps their first language that is non-English with English,” Neiman said, “as that’s part of our goal for them to learn and be proficient in reading, writing, listening and speaking English.”

Sydney Brown is a news reporter for The Daily News covering education and environmental issues in Cowlitz County.


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