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December 1, 2019
Vol. 77
No. 4

Tell Us About

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Tell us about a way that your school is welcoming to ELL students and their families.

School Culture
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Credit: Steve Debenport

Tell us about a way that your school is welcoming to ELL students and their families.

Celebrating Language and Culture

Our school district's priority is to provide a safe and healthy learning environment that promotes student success. We developed Newcomer Centers, where English learners and their parents can develop meaningful relationships with school and district staff. These centers are open twice a week, and we provide tutoring as well as English learning classes for parents. We also provide workshops for parents on subjects such as helping children with homework or resources available to help children succeed academically. Every school hosts an English Learner Welcome Night. During this event, students and parents are provided with school-specific information and important procedures such as state-required testing. We also take the opportunity to showcase student work as well as their language and culture. Parents are encouraged to bring native foods to share with attendees. It's truly a celebration of our students and how their rich multicultural and multilingual background enhances our school community.
Clarissa Duskin, coordinator of English learner services, Saint Lucie Public Schools, Port St. Lucie, Florida

A Tribute to Families

Before graduation, our students write thank you letters to their families. We encourage our English learners to write their letters in their native language. Then, at graduation, the letters are read aloud by the speaker, and the students present flowers to their family members. We have a native speaker read the letters in the family's predominant language. It is so much more meaningful when parents hear their son or daughter's words in their own language. Our graduation ceremony is a touching tribute to the family bond, and we honor their heritage.
Gretchen Rosales, high school principal, Elba Central School, Elba, New York

A Booming "Hello"

All new entrants to our district are greeted by a bilingual registrar. A translation service is used for other languages. They then are greeted by the ESL teacher for their school and the principal. The family attends an orientation that includes a video replete with home language supports and a tour of the school with the bilingual ESL teacher. Students are connected with their classroom teacher immediately. If the child is Spanish-speaking, they are placed in a dual-language classroom with a bilingual teacher.
The other students in the school draw pictures and decorate the classroom for their new classmates and welcome them with a booming, "Hello!" While the child is in class, parents meet with the bilingual social worker or ESL teacher, who assesses if there are any social-emotional needs of the child or family. The principal of the building monitors the child and checks in daily with classroom teachers to ensure the transition to a new school, community, and country is going well.
Nicole Moriarty, director of K–12 reading and English as a new language, Mineola UFSD, Mineola, New York

A Guide to Navigating the System

We opened an International Welcome Center using a U.S. Department of Education Striving Readers grant. This helps families navigate the school system and understand the many resources available to them. We have a paraprofessional who speaks multiple languages, and our EL team worked to support her licensing to become a notary for our families. After one year of success, the position was elevated to an 11-month teacher. She helps with scheduling appointments for immunizations, preparing paperwork for registration, and simply supporting families transitioning to our system.
Lura Hanks, supervisor of ELA and social studies, Washington County Public Schools, Hagerstown, Maryland

Convenient Scheduling for Families

This year, we will be having our second annual ELL luncheon in collaboration with the Regional Bilingual Education Resource Network. With 19 percent of our population being Hispanic, we wanted to make sure the families understood the tiered services that their children are provided. In addition, we wanted families to know what they can do to continue to support their children. We purposely scheduled the luncheon on a Sunday afternoon, as many families work six days a week and then go to church on Sunday mornings.
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Elba Central School District's annual ELL luncheon supports families.
Ned Dale, superintendent, Elba Central School District, Elba, New York

A Family Ambassador Group

Our goal at Symmes Elementary is to welcome all families and to embrace all cultures. School culture can be challenging, and we want to make sure everyone has opportunities to embrace it fully. Symmes Ambassadors are a group of volunteer parents who work with families coming to the United States from other countries to help them understand the nuances of an elementary school in the United States, and they provide these supports in multiple languages. All families want their students to be successful, but when they face challenges, the volunteers from Symmes Ambassadors help parents to connect to one another and create bridges from home to school. Each month, the ambassadors host an event for parents to learn about everything from registration, school forms, curriculum, parent communications, field trips, and extracurricular activities. This group also creates a place for international parents to share their own talents and contribute to the Symmes community. This has created a forum where families feel comfortable, connected, and a part of the larger school community. Other schools are using the program as a model for their buildings.
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Symmes Ambassadors welcome new ELL families to their school.
Emily Williams, ESOL supervisor, Sycamore Community Schools, Cincinnati, Ohio

EL Parent Night

When we held our first parent night, our current ELs made a GoogleSlides presentation and a WE Video highlighting our school and what new students and new families need to know (events, our initiatives, our school motto, who important school people are, and how to navigate the website). We had about 70 parents and their students attend, and the night was also supported by our reading specialist, who taught parents how to play literacy games with their children and shared strategies supporting students' reading at home. It was magical! Every student left with a new book, and every parent felt welcomed into our school. Now when new students enroll, the work our EL students created helps others on their first day.
Helen Vassiliou, ESL specialist, Adena Elementary, Lakota Local Schools, West Chester, Ohio

A Head Start on Skills

Ponitz Career Techonolgy Center is a high school in Dayton, Ohio, that provides a variety of career pathways for students. The ESL specialist, other district professionals, and teacher educators at Wright State University (WSU) partner to design and run a summer academy for EL students who are new to Ponitz.
The ESL specialist and other school personnel focus on acclimating new students to Ponitz, providing them helpful information about the pathways at Ponitz and other aspects to help them feel comfortable as they begin high school. A TESOL professor from WSU and her teacher candidates support students' English language development. A mathematics education professor and teacher candidates plan specific math lessons that provide the students with a "head start" on skills they will need for high school. In addition to providing needed assistance to EL students, the academy also gives teacher candidates experience teaching EL students so they can better support them in their future classrooms.
Brian Boyd, associate professor, Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio

A Warm Welcome

Mrs. Joson, one of our math teachers, crochets a blanket for each of our students who come to us from another country. Our students come from Myanmar, Honduras, or Sudan and have never experienced the harsh winters of Indiana. (Many have never seen snow!) One of our translators or teachers who speaks the student's native language facilitates the initial meeting when the blankets are presented to the students in a welcoming, small group setting. We make it clear that there is nothing needed in return, but we hope they are warm. The huge smiles, and all the high-fives, make the hours she spends on each blanket so worth it.
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Immigrant students at Southport Middle School are presented with homemade blankets as a welcome gift.
Stephanie Quinlan, principal, Southport Middle School, Indianapolis, Indiana

At Your Service

At Bridgeport Elementary, we welcome our English language learners by including our English language development specialists at our Welcome Back to School Night. They stand in the middle of our library and personally greet current ELLs and their families. In addition to sharing information at our back to school night, we provide Spanish translation for any informational flyer that is sent home. We offer translation services at conferences. During evening events, our ELD specialists set up information tables for parents to ask questions. We also have a community liaison that provides outreach to ELLs' families. She is able to connect these families with services that they may not have access to. ¡Nuestra escuela quiere mucho a nuestros ELLs! (Our school loves our ELLs!)
David Jaimes, 3rd grade TWI teacher, Tigard-Tualatin School District, Tualatin, Oregon

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