As the holidays quickly approach, we can’t help but reflect on our year, while also anticipating the excitement of gathering with family and close friends. This year though, we think more about our holidays as a form of privilege as we serve a high influx of students coming from Central and South America, many of whom were separated from their families along their journey. As a high school, we have tried our best to make our English Language Learners feel welcome, extending our services to this population a bit more than we have in the past. We will share some of our best practices within our counseling department, but before we do that, we wanted to share a bit about how our school’s English Language Development Program works.
On a programmatic level, we have several supports in addition to ELD teachers. This includes an Assistant Principal who oversees the program and supports teachers, as well as an ELD Coordinator who gives course recommendations on student placement and provides teacher support. Our most important support includes an ELD Program Assistant who delivers ELD program information to families, proctors placement exams and provides results, and communicates and coordinates with the families. Within the classroom, paraeducators support students with writing, reading, and classroom instruction provided by the teachers. We, School Counselors, are assigned by last name to each student, and support the ELD coordinator with schedule creation, post-secondary support, and with parent meetings.
At our school, English Language Learners are classified as students who have been in the U.S. for less than 6 years. They are given three initial assessments to determine english and math levels (The ELPAC (English Language Proficiency Assessments for California); GMRT (Gates MacGinite Reading Test); and the Algebra 1 assessment). Once the assessments are completed, our ELD Coordinator sends course recommendations to the Counselor to create a schedule for the student. The assessments will then determine which of the three levels our ELD students will place into. We offer 3 levels of English Language Development:
- ELD 1- Beginner: ELPAC overall score Level 1; GMRT Grade Equivalent level of 0-3.9
- ELD 2- Intermediate: ELPAC overall score Level 2-3; GMRT Grade Equivalent level of 4-6.9
- ELD 3- Advanced; ELPAC overall score Level 3-4; GMRT Grade Equivalent level of 7-8.9
Beyond the rigorous classroom curriculum, our district has been creative in providing some unique learning experiences for our ELD students. Every year the English Learner community comes together for a district-wide speech contest for students enrolled in our ELD classes. Students prepare and perform a 3-5 minute memorized speech that demonstrates thorough knowledge of a topic and reinforces speaking skills in English. Our district also created an “EL Conversational Club” housed at our site, where students learn about the American culture and traditions while also looking at similarities and differences to their home country. It is a chance for students to make friends, have fun, play games, and win prizes all while practicing English. Although this is not a required class, it is an opportunity for students to engage in conversational English skills.
Last year the district also supported a class called “Identities in Society Today” that served as an additional support to beginning English Learners and came from a Project Based Learning curriculum. It would challenge students to examine how pervasive and derogatory stereotypes are disseminated through mainstream media such as movies, television, and social media. Students then created original artwork with the goal of using their art to communicate an alternate narrative to counteract a particular stereotype through an exhibition entitled “Art Activism.”
Finally, as counselors, we provide several direct services to support our ELD students, both in high school and in their post-secondary planning. With such a high influx of ELD students this year (over 40), we have been looking at our services to see how we can better support our students.
In addition to creating their schedules and orienting students to our school system, some of the continued support we are providing this year includes:
- Support with Academic Reviews: We support the ELD coordinator to meet with students and their families to review their graduation status, current class progress, their strengths, areas of concern, attendance, and discuss their post secondary options and goals.
- Financial Aid/Dream Act submission and completion: Since each student has such a unique citizenship/residency situation, we work on a case by case basis to help them understand their status for financial aid. This is when our close partnerships with our local financial aid experts at the community college come into play, and we also work with our interns to help support with follow up and small group sessions regarding this topic (in addition to a few others).
- Senior support for those who are not eligible for graduation (due to entry date/credit deficiency): We hold a session for our district’s Adult Education program to share information about their ESL classes and/or supports students in searching for non-credit classes at a local community college.
Some of the additional support we are providing or are in the planning stages this year includes:
- ELD 1 Classroom Presentation: We wanted to acknowledge the students’ transition to the US, especially for those who may have encountered traumatic experiences on their journey. We introduced them to the support available on and off campus (teachers, counselors, paras, LMFT, outside school support, after school tutoring), reviewed the ELD program and reminded them of the importance of learning English (to move levels and for the opportunities that it will give them in this country), and encouraged them to advocate for themselves and ask questions.
- ELD 2 Classroom Presentation: The goal was to help the ELD 2 students understand their English placement and what it means for their futures. We introduced them to their post secondary options, reviewed the college systems, and financial aid. Many of them were unaware that their citizenship and residency status would determine whether or not they can qualify for financial aid.
- Field trips: Support 11th and 12th grade ELD field trips to local Community Colleges, CSUs, and private universities to expose students to the various college systems and understand what is available to them now and in the future. We want them to picture themselves at their end goal.
- Evening class: Guidance Counselors are currently working with our Adult Education Program to bring to campus an afterschool class that is equivalent to a conversational and ESL class that would ideally be taught two (2) days a week by an Adult Education teacher.
- Bridge program for non-grad students to go to ESL in Adult Education program: This would consist of a series of summer sessions for students who are 18 but don’t have enough credits to graduate, students can be part of an orientation/check-in with our Adult Ed program and regularly review progress on preparing for the Adult Education ESL classes or the non-credit bearing courses at community college.
Additional support we are still learning more about and will continue to pursue on behalf of our EL students includes:
- What support is available at the community college to continue with the acquisition of the English language?
- What are the supports our local community colleges can offer our students who may not have enough time to complete their high school diploma with us?
- How can we better support our ELD students in their final transition to community college?
- What financial support is available to students who do not qualify for AB 540 or other California residency benefits at this time, but may be able to access institutional aid through the CA Promise or otherwise (i.e. grant funding, scholarships, etc)?
- We would like to create a resource that students can use when they leave our school that includes important ESL department contacts at our local colleges.
Ana Franco and Vanessa Goulart Agredano
Fremont High School