Target: Success! Educating English learners in U.S. schools By ANNE SWIGARD The education of English learners has become a major issue in U.S. schools in the past two decades. Many schools which previously had no students who spoke a second language are now finding themselves flooded with students who are learning English. English learners (EL), particularly those who enter our schools in the early years, stand a better chance than at any time in history to be prepared to meet the rigor that they will face with the advent of the Common Core. While this influx of immigrant and refugee students has created concern for schools who have found themselves under-prepared to serve these learners, there are those who have embraced the challenge. What follows are three suggestions for schools to give their students the best shot possible at high rates of achievement.
Connect with the Families of Your English Learners The greatest asset that a school has in its quest to provide English learners a solid education is the opportunity to know the families of the children that they serve. Information about the child’s early childhood background and home culture can prove to be invaluable when assessing readiness for reading and schooling as a whole.This connec-
FALL 2013 SouthEast Education Network
tion can also stave off student mobility, as parents are more likely to stay in a school that is welcoming and genuinely cares about their child. This can prove to be somewhat tricky, given that some cultures per-
ceive the school’s responsibilities for meeting the child’s needs as very different than those of the family. Simply put, parents are often confused by requests from the school to give their opinion about the management of the school, or their child’s education. After all, the school is the expert in the education of their child. For those with a limited schooling experience, they have expressed feeling intimidated by such requests. Also, in some cultures, an invitation to the school can only
spell out one thing: trouble. Surely their child must have done something wrong. Such invitations can cause anxiety, even though they are often meant to build community. A solution? At or near the beginning of the school year, hold parent meetings that run along the lines of “Understanding Abbott School.” These meetings would ideally be conducted in the parents’ native language by teachers who are proficient in or native speakers of that language or by other parents from the students’ native culture who have successfully transitioned to your community’s culture. If that is not possible, the use of professional interpreters will ensure that your message is expertly communicated, minimizing chances for misunderstandings.Topics would include: • Welcome • How our school differs from schools you may be used to • Expectations of parents with respect to homework and participation • Differences in grading, and how to decipher your students’ report card • School-wide efforts in place to keep
Southeast Education Network issue 15.2