October is Celebrating the Bilingual Child Month, and West Seneca Central School District is proud to be able to celebrate with their English Language Learner (ELL) students and families.
There are 63 ELL students enrolled in the English as a New Language (ENL) program, 39 at Northwood Elementary, 18 at East Middle and six at East Senior. There are also 10 students at East Senior who have become proficient in English and have been able to exit the program! The students enrolled come from Bangladesh, Bosnia, China, Dominican Republic, Egypt, India, Iraq, Nigeria, Poland, Puerto Rico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Thailand, Yemen and Vietnam.
Through the program, English Teachers to the Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) meet regularly to provide ELL language and academic information to as well as teaching strategies with classroom teachers. The teachers provide standalone ENL instruction based on ELL language proficiency level (per initial NYSITELL and yearly NYSESLAT) and provide students with pre-lesson vocabulary, background information and post-lesson review.
“Learning a new language and the content-knowledge at the same time is a very difficult task, especially at the secondary level,” shared Theresa Haungs, a secondary ESOL teacher and the district ENL program coordinator. “Our ELLs are held to the same academic and learning standard as other native speakers. They take all the same NYS assessment (except the ELA for the first year) upon their arrival and Regents exams to graduate. Research shows that it takes about five to seven years to reach grade-level proficiency, and many of our ELLs don’t have that much time!”
To help with the learning process, ESOL teachers co-plan and co-teach with the grade-level ELA teachers to provide content support in all academic areas and modify/design reading, writing, homework and tests/quizzes.
Classroom teachers collaborate with ESOL teachers in preparing/modifying academic content and allow trans-languaging methods to be used in the students’ writing work. They also make the environment in and out of the classroom culturally inviting for ELLs and their families.
Translators are provided to students for the New York State assessment and to families for parent/teacher conferences. Families are also offered information for a healthcare clinic, adult ESL program, public library card applications and colleges with ENL programs.
“We witness our ELLs progress from not knowing English to becoming proficient, graduating from high school and attending college,” Haunges shared. “When they come back to thank you, that is the most rewarding experience for an ESOL teacher.”
As a way to celebrate the multiple cultures in the district, welcome the new ELLs and their families to the district and provide an opportunity for families to meet teachers and administrators, the ENL department decided to hold an annual potluck dinner. Families are encouraged to bring a dish to the potluck representing their native country and participate in various activities throughout the night.
“It encourages networking between parents and families from other countries in the West Seneca Community,” Haunges said. “The potluck makes them feel welcome and have a sense of belonging.”
This year marked the eighth year of the celebratory event. On Tuesday, Oct. 10, families were able to meet ELL alumni, write their goals and dreams on a sheet of paper and add them to a chain link which rotates among the three ENL schools, apply for West Seneca Public Library cards, sign up for parent/teacher conferences, complete a coloring activity and receive Henna.
Though the event is a great way for families to feel welcomed and to celebrate the new chapter in their lives, it is a great reflection to see how far they have come.
“In recent years, some of our ELLs came from war-torn countries and missed a few years of school before they came. Some of our ELLs were separated from their parents for many years and now reunited again in the U.S.,” Haunges shared. “The social, emotional, cultural and academic adjustment they have to make is beyond our imagination. However, most of our ELLs are extremely self-motivated and hard-working regardless the obstacles that they are facing and the many yet to overcome!”