School Districts Taking a More Holistic Approach to Teaching ESL

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Reviewed by Mary McLaughlin, Ma-TESOL; M.S. SpEd

A school district in Virginia is hoping to blaze a new trail when it comes to teaching English as a second language. As the amount of immigrant families increases, so have the district’s efforts to partner with these families. Within the Warren County Public Schools, the number of ESL students has nearly tripled in the last 8 years. In 2007, there were around 650 English learning learners, and as of the 2014/15 school year there are roughly 1,580.

Associate Superintendent Vicki Writsel sees this diversity as a very fortunate thing and considers the schools in the district lucky to have a lot of bilingual people living in the area.

Interpreters are hired to make house visits and relay crucial information about the children’s schooling to the families and explain it with great patience and detail. They serve as a key-communicating link between parents, teachers, and schools. Besides these school related house visits, interpreters also join the families of ESL students when going to doctor’s appointments so as to enlighten them about resources that are in the community.

The Bowling Green Independent School District knows that when the students graduate from this public school system, the ties they’ve had with the families will be severed. In order to ensure that families are best prepared for the future, the district offers an adult English class on Tuesday and Thursday nights. While providing fundamental education, the children of these families will be given a free meal at these courses while their parents are learning.

This change in approach to ESL has paid off. At Henry F. Moss Middle School there has been an influx of immigrants, but ESL teacher Taylor Nash feels well prepared. Nash is aware that engaging the students who are struggling to understand lectures is vital. “They don’t understand a teacher that just lectures,” he states, “we try to get our students out of their chairs and get them talking.”

Over the last three years, this Middle School’s ESL program has become quite successful. In the 2013-2014 school year, 16 students were able to graduate from the ESL program and were deemed proficient enough to no longer need ESL training. This is a phenomenal increase when keeping in mind this number was at zero just three years earlier.