ELL program bridges language barriers


Graphic by: Elizabeth Hsieh

Elizabeth Hsieh, Editor-in-chief

Housing chatter from Spanish to Lingala, the English Language Learners (ELL) program provides a comfortable space for students from all around the world to adapt to a new language and culture.
Students are placed into the program and sorted into tiers based upon the ACCESS English Language Proficiency test. Each tier reflects a different level of development with the language and can range from no English to years of experience.
“Tier A would be a newcomer, and they need the most support,” Karen Seeberg, ELL teacher, said. “Some years there aren’t any newcomers, but this year we have eight newcomers from Senegal, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Vietnam, and Mexico.”
In adapting to the new language, ELL students must overcome the discomfort of speaking out loud.
“They are definitely timid, although in a small setting they are more vocal about practicing the language, but if you put them in a larger classroom, they might not participate, and they might be hesitant or say things very quietly,” Mike Caponigri, ELL teacher, said.
While academic support is provided through translations and modified assignments, the greatest source of support for ELL students comes from each other. Similar in their foreign tongues, students from different backgrounds can feel confident about speaking with an accent or testing out new words.
“In ESL 1, 2, and 3, they are very small classes, and there’s an environment where they are all going through the same thing, so they’re not embarrassed, and they don’t feel that they are so different,” Seeburg said. “They really help each other. If one student is not getting it, another student that speaks their same language will jump in with Spanish or French.”
Aside from their English language classes, ELL students take regular courses and must interact with the language across many different areas.
“They will have almost every single class as a regular student, so it’s very challenging for them,” Seeburg said. “I couldn’t even imagine coming to new a country and learning English, but then learning English in Chemistry too.”
Students are slowly weaned off outside support until they can pick up content on their own. Depending on test scores, students have the chance to graduate from the ELL program and move into regular classes entirely.
“We monitor them and see if they’re struggling. If they’re not, if they continue to progress and their grades are good, then they will stay,” Caponigri said. “This rarely happens, but if they really really struggle, they could be put back into an ESL class.”
Even with the language skills, according to Caponigri, other students may come with “gaps” in their education and may be years behind on required courses.
“There are some older kids that are newcomers taking freshman classes, and they make have to stay a year or two longer to get the credits,” Caponigri said.
As students move from different parts of the world, the ELL program creates an environment for them to adjust at their own pace.
“Their first love is their culture and homeland,” Seeberg said. “We don’t want to take that away from them, we just want to get them to acclimate to where they’re living.”