By Guest Blogger: Dan Lutz
On October 30 at Bear Creek High School, several of us on the A+ Action Team attended the A+ report release and presentation regarding the status and progress of English language learners in schools and districts around Colorado. It was an impressive event about an arena that is important to me.
First a bit about what happened at the event to share the scene with those of you who could not attend:
To begin, I entered the building through the wrong door, but a student leaving the school graciously held the door open for me, so I had no notion it was not the main entrance until I got inside and was greeted by security. He welcomed me, verified my ID, and then personally walked me the length of this very large building to the correct door. At the check-in table a large group of English language learners were waiting to welcome participants and attendees like me. I learned very quickly that the emerging multilingual students were very proud of who they are, and that they enjoyed being with each other. Many of them eagerly gathered around me to introduce themselves, and then one of them escorted me to a stairway where there were more emerging multilingual students welcoming me and directing me up the stairs. At the top of the stairs another student personally escorted me to the library where the program would begin. Quite an impressive and warm welcome.
Landon, A+’s Senior Partner for Advocacy and Alliances, talked about how the program would proceed, and he pointed out that the success of the Bear Creek English language program and the success rate of the students in both English acquisition and general academic achievement were among the top of all schools in the state. He said the choice to launch the report at this school was a way to highlight both the report and best practices for non-native English speakers to learn English.
Both the principal and the district superintendent welcomed everyone to introduce the program. I noted three key factors the principal emphasized about the emerging multilingual program at the school: collaboration around shared values in the community for a strong English language learning program, relationships, and the teachers in the program. I’d already seen the evidence of relationships just getting to the library. When the principal introduced the teachers, the students cheered for them. Jeremiah Quiñones, the teacher that leads the program in the school, emphasized how important the connection is between strong positive relationships among students and teachers and how well the students in the program succeed.
Jeremiah had three of the students speak. The family of one originated from Cameroon, another from Nepal, and a third from Vietnam. Each introduced themselves to us, welcomed us, and said briefly how the program and the school was so important to them. I appreciated the incredible challenges this program was facing with the large number of languages that are represented by the students in the program. I was also totally enthralled by the international, multilingual enrollment in the program.
We were divided into groups to visit classrooms, and each group had four or five students leading the way. I’m always curious in a school that is new to me, so as I was looking around I lagged behind, but one student kept her eyes on me to make sure I didn’t get lost. Very impressive awareness I thought. The group I was in visited a social studies class which combined English language learners with native English speakers. While the class was taught in English, my understanding was the class was specifically a sheltered English class with a teacher trained to bridge the language gap where necessary.
I left with a couple of questions and thoughts:
- To what extent are the students in this program affecting the rest of the school? Are there specific events or strategies to highlight the program and connect it with the rest of the students in the building? The principal commented that he would like to see the rest of the school develop the strength of relationship building that the emerging multilingual program has developed. That made me wonder if there is a vision at the school to make the program a centerpiece or cornerstone of influence in creating a global mindset and global learning lens throughout the building for all students. Certainly it is a need all students have for the increasingly global/intercultural character of their world and their futures. Given the current national leadership’s derogatory rhetoric about immigrants, the integration of immigrants and the assets they bring to our society at large holds an essential role for our schools today – and for the promise of tomorrow’s leadership.
- With the evident strength of relationships among the students, and between students and teachers in this program and Bear Creek, I would imagine there is both permission and invitation for students’ personal stories to provide roots for meaning in their academic learning, but would enjoying hearing about this more.
- How does this program at Bear Creek differentiate English language learning among students with different learning rates? How are kids who don’t fit the learning time expectations kept “on time” in academic areas? What are the emotional self-esteem issues that arise among students that don’t fit the learning rate expectations?
- I would like to have heard more about the relationship building with the students’ parents. Often it’s difficult to get parents of immigrant students to be involved at their children’s school, when their command of English and their comfort in the culture may not be strong enough to give them the confidence to come in to the school.
- Lisa, A+’s Director of Research and Policy, did an excellent job of summarizing the report in the very short time she was given to do so. As are the other A+ reports, this one is dense. Lisa highlighted the limitations of this study noted in the report, and I’d like to understand those limitations better, especially in terms of challenges from limited data availability to which she referred.
- Overall, I loved the fact that this event included students. As all of our efforts are about students, I think it’s important whenever possible and viable to include student voice in these events. Van, the CEO of A+ Colorado, commented that he liked this event where people involved in the work were present for the presentation – including the students.