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March 1, 2007
Vol. 64
No. 6

Maintaining Excellence at Harrisonburg High

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EquityInstructional Strategies
Using a sheltered instruction model, a Virginia high school helped its growing population of English language learners achieve success.
Last year, I returned to my high school alma mater to conduct some research on the English as a second language (ESL) program. As I walked through the halls, I found an Alumni Wall in the student commons listing the names of all previous graduates. The names reflect the history of demographic changes in the school and the community since the school's founding in the 1800s. When I graduated from Harrisonburg High School in Harrisonburg, Virginia, in 1970, my senior class had 117 students. Nine of my classmates were African American. The class of 1971 had similar numbers but included two Asian American students. This was a typical representation of the demographic diversity at the school until the early 1980s, when the district enrolled a small number of Vietnamese refugees. By the mid-1990s, surnames on the Alumni Wall became even more diverse, with surnames reflecting Hispanic, Eastern European, and Middle Eastern origins. As a result of this demographic shift, the Harrisonburg City Public Schools, like many schools in mid-sized American cities, must meet the needs of a larger language minority student population than ever before. In the 1993–1994 school year, 160 limited-English-proficient (LEP) students were enrolled districtwide, accounting for 5 percent of the total districtwide school-age population. Each year since then, the numbers have increased. School officials predict that by 2010 the numbers of LEP students will increase to 50 percent of the district's total population (Mellott, 2006). The LEP population at Harrisonburg High School for the 2006–2007 school year is 423, 31 percent of the total school population. These students come from 64 different countries and speak 44 different languages, including Spanish, Russian, Kurdish, Urdu, Chinese, and Lao (Harrisonburg City Public Schools, 2006).
As the district was experiencing dramatic increases in the number of LEP students, the federal government passed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, which requires that districts administer English language proficiency assessments for grades K–12 that are aligned with state standards. The Harrisonburg district diligently began to ramp-up its ESL Program to meet NCLB requirements.
The Virginia School Report Card (2006) indicates that Harrisonburg High has made adequate yearly progress (AYP) for the 2003–2004, 2004–2005, and 2005–2006 school years with no areas in need of improvement. Harrisonburg High School provides a model of how secondary schools can successfully educate English language learners.

Identification, Referral, and Assignment of Services

In January 2004, the Harrisonburg City Public Schools opened a districtwide Intake Center at the high school. All new families registering their children at any of the district's six schools take a language survey. Families with limited English proficiency are referred to the Intake Center where they receive help completing required registration forms. An assessment administrator gives language, math, and interest assessments to each family's school-age children so they can be placed in the correct program.
The high school's two full-time Spanish-speaking liaisons, one Russian-speaking liaison/teaching assistant, and one Kurdish-speaking liaison/assistant orient families of high schoolers to the school and its programs, keep parents and guardians apprised of their children's progress, and act as interpreters. Interpreters from the community are available for families speaking other languages.

The ESL Program

As the district's population of LEP students grew, teachers, administrators, ESL supervisors, guidance counselors, service providers, and parents visited existing ESL programs in the Washington, D.C., area. They consulted with ESL researchers Virginia Collier and Wayne Thomas to determine how best to use available resources to prepare LEP students for required standardized tests. The Harrisonburg City Schools decided to adopt the Sheltered Instruction model (Short & Echevarria, 2005). The evolving ESL program at Harrisonburg High now consists of three levels of instruction, as required by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Intensive English

The first level, Intensive English, includes sublevels 1A, 1B, 1C, and Newcomer English and enrolls approximately 21 percent of the school's LEP students. Bilingual ESL teachers teach these yearlong, 94-minute courses for students who either lack basic English speaking and writing skills or score at Levels 1 and 2 on the state English Language Proficiency standards. Level 1 proficiency indicates that students use and understand simple sentences in written and spoken English. Level 2 proficiency means that students can communicate in brief oral and written passages on basic topics and can determine the meaning of new words from context. Newcomer English focuses on establishing a fundamental level of ability in spoken and written English. Students in sublevel 1A learn the meaning and pronunciation of English words. Instruction in sublevel 1B focuses on speaking in English during class discussions, completing written grammar and vocabulary exercises in English, writing English dictations, and learning “sight words.” Intensive English 1C includes spelling skills such as doubling final consonants when adding suffixes to English words, grammar skills such as correct word order, and reading in English.
Rosa and Vanya (both pseudonyms) are typical of students in the Intensive English program. Rosa is a quiet but friendly 16-year-old 9th grader from Mexico. She immigrated first to North Carolina, where she lived for three years and learned some English. After her father's death, she moved to Harrisonburg to live with her uncle and aunt because her mother could not provide for all her children.
Vanya, a tall, quiet 16-year-old 10th grader from Ukraine, immigrated to Harrisonburg a year ago with his family. Vanya's mother works in the dining services department at a local university. She keeps informed of his progress in school through the Russian-speaking liaison/teaching assistant. Vanya's older sister and his friends help him with his English at home.
In addition to the Intensive English 1C class, Rosa and Vanya both receive daily math instruction in English. Rosa's math class is designed for students with lower-level skills. It opens with a general lesson on such concepts as multiplication and adding groups of numbers. Then students work on individualized packets based on their skill levels, with support from a primary teacher and two teaching assistants. Vanya, who already had some math skills when he enrolled, takes a geometry class in which a primary teacher, one resource teacher, and three interns from James Madison University's teacher education program assist students.
Both Rosa and Vanya have 47 minutes of daily instruction in integrated science and social studies. The ESL teachers who teach these courses use basic science and social studies content to reinforce English use. Rosa's schedule also includes elective courses in health/physical education and choir. Vanya takes elective courses in music and technology. These elective courses, which meet on alternating days, are taught by regular classroom teachers but enroll only LEP students.

Transitional English

The second level is Transitional English, which includes two sublevels: Transitions 1 and Transitions 2. Both are yearlong, daily, 94-minute courses taught by regular English teachers. Approximately 25 percent of the school's LEP students are enrolled in these classes. Students in these courses have scored at Levels 3 and 4 on the state's English Language Proficiency standards. At level 3, students can comprehend most of what they hear or read with some support or repetition, while Level 4 students can communicate nearly fluently.
In Transitional English 1, students learn new English words and become skilled at correcting English sentences with capitalization, punctuation, and other errors. Transitional English 2 focuses on building vocabulary, combining sentences, paraphrasing English text, and writing persuasive essays.
Carlos and Demyan, both 9th graders, are typical Transitional English students. Carlos, a slender, dark-eyed 16-year-old from Mexico, lived in North Carolina for one year before moving to Harrisonburg six years ago with his family. Carlos's father, who works at a poultry processing plant, attends to many school-related matters concerning his son. Carlos's older brother acts as the family's primary interpreter.
Demyan is a small 14-year-old with blonde hair whose family immigrated to Harrisonburg four years ago to escape religious persecution in Uzbekistan. Demyan's mother, who works in a pricing warehouse for a large discount chain, relies on the recommendations of the Russian-speaking liaison/teaching assistant in making education decisions for her son. She receives progress reports on Demyan every week or two.
Carlos and Demyan share nearly all of their classes. Besides their English class, both are in a Math Applications class like Rosa's. The boys also take a 94-minute Earth Science Application course for LEP students and other students with a low achievement level in science. The class is taught in English by a regular science teacher. Carlos's electives are health/physical education and technology, and Demyan's are health/physical education and Junior ROTC. These elective classes enroll both LEP and non-LEP students.

Monitor Status

Upon completing Transitions 2 English or demonstrating the ability to read at the 6th grade level, students exit the ESL program and go on Monitor status for two years. They now take yearlong or semester-long courses in English, mathematics, and social studies with their native English-speaking schoolmates to prepare for the state's Standards of Learning tests, a requirement for graduation. During these two years, students take additional language and literacy tests to ensure that they are maintaining language proficiency.
Formal assessments given near the end of every semester help school personnel determine whether students are ready for a more advanced level of instruction. Classroom ESL teachers meet with the high school's ESL program coordinator and literacy coordinator to provide additional input. The school's principal oversees students' improvement in English proficiency and ensures that class sizes stay small, usually 15–20 students per class.

Troubleshooting and Refining

School staff members see this program as evolving. Teachers and administrators meet regularly to discuss and address their concerns.
For example, noting during the 2004–2005 school year that Level 1 students were not advancing at the rate expected, school personnel reexamined the skills and backgrounds of students enrolled at that level. Upon examining the program, teachers and administrators realized that several Level 1 students were older than the typical age of 15 or 16. These older students needed a program that prepared them to function beyond the classroom more quickly than one focusing on academic English skills. Students ages 18 and up now enroll in a grant-funded program provided by the College of Education at James Madison University rather than one of the high school programs. Seventeen-year-olds may choose either the university or the high school program. The university's program focuses on literacy, numeracy, and preparation for the Spanish GED. A second group of Level 1 students had come from the southern interior regions of Mexico where their first languages were native dialects with no written forms. To accommodate these students who lacked literacy in both English and Spanish, the staff developed New Arrival English and New Arrival Literacy, yearlong classes that students take concurrently to become literate in English and Spanish before enrolling in Intensive English 1A.

Staffing and Staff Development

The high school's ESL Department includes a secondary ESL coordinator, five full-time bilingual ESL teachers, and three bilingual teaching assistants. ESL students, although primarily served by this department, receive instruction from the entire Adolescent Literacy Department, which is chaired by the high school's literacy coordinator and includes members of the ESL department, two science teachers, two math teachers, a social studies teacher, and four regular English teachers.
According to Wanda Hamilton, who oversees staff development for the district, educating faculty and staff on teaching language minority students “drives everything.” The administration has adopted the perspective that “every teacher is an ESL and reading teacher.” All teachers in the district receive training in ESL literacy methods and sheltered instruction. Other training opportunities include workshops on reading and writing across the curriculum, summer mathematics workshops, state-level reading and ESL conferences, and monthly meetings with a consultant.

Program Results

In 2005–2006, nearly all of the school's LEP students were tested in English and math. Results showed that 75 percent of the LEP students tested met the standard in English performance. This compares favorably with the state's 72 percent. In math, 77 percent of LEP students tested at Harrisonburg High met the standard, compared to 65 percent in the state (Virginia School Report Card, 2006).
The continual development of both the ESL program and the staff has helped Harrisonburg High successfully meet both NCLB requirements and the needs of its burgeoning ELL population. It seems likely, then, that the names on the Alumni Wall will continue to reflect the area's growing diversity as the school strives to maintain its academic excellence.
References

Harrisonburg City Public Schools. (2006). LEP student enrollment statistics. Harrisonburg, VA: Author. Available:http://staff.harrisonburg.k12.va.us/~dbenavides/EnrollmentStatistics0607.html

Mellott, J. (2006, September 27). City tops in ESL. DNRonline.com. Retrieved September 27, 2006, fromwww.dnronline.com

Short, D., & Echevarria, J. (2005). Teacher skills to support English language learners. Educational Leadership, 62(4), 8–13.

Virginia School Report Card. (2006). Harrisonburg High School. Richmond, VA: Virginia Department of Education. Available:www.pen.k12.va.us/VDOE/src

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