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Bridging the language gap
Imagine this: Two dozen Latino middle school students staying after school twice a week to get extra help in math — and having so much fun that they wish they could do it every day.
No need to imagine it — it's happening at Crook County Middle School.
The Crook County School District, like districts statewide, struggles to get students to state benchmarks. Not only that, the local district has a large population of English Language Learners who face academic challenges.
The 2015-16 data suggests that 92 percent of all district ELL students are not proficient in math.
The solution: Building a stronger ELL Program districtwide and implementing an after-school math tutoring program to support English Language Learner students.
"We continue to make strides in improving the performance with this student group," said CCSD Director of Curriculum and Instruction Stacy Smith, pointing out that the school board recently made some major investments in the ELL Program.
"We've combined that with both House Bill 3499 money and Title III money," he added.
Title III helps ensure that English learners attain English language proficiency and meet state academic standards. CCSD gets roughly $16,000 in Title III funding this school year.
Oregon House Bill 3499, the equity in education bill, helps implement a statewide education plan to provide ELLs equity in access to the educational system in all forms. The local district gets $90,000 this biennium and another $90,000 in the next biennium.
These ELL funds have helped address an increase in English learner students. Currently, there are around 130 ELL students in the district, which is up from 108 in 2014-15.
The district went from two English language development teachers to three-and-a-half this school year, which the general fund covered.
The ELL funds allowed for the creation of a CCSD Welcome Center, which two Hispanic women lead. The coordinators also provide translation services for families, especially during enrollment and conferencing.
"The Welcome Center isn't a place, it's a concept that's occurring both at the elementary and secondary level," Smith explained. "They have really cast a wide net and have welcomed our Hispanic families in the school district, and it has provided a much more welcoming feeling for those families, and they are much more connected to their schools."
Title III funding continues to support the Juntos program at both CCMS and Crook County High School. Juntos, an Oregon State University program, helps Latino families access financial aid and provides pathways to enable first-generation college students to go to college.
House Bill 3499 provides support and supplies for newcomers — students who have recently arrived in the United States. It also covers professional development on language acquisition.
The funds have been used to establish a six-week Parent Literacy Program at the elementary level as well as Brain Boost, an ELL summer school that began last summer.
The district hopes to get approval for a Science Technology Engineering and Math elective and a robotics class at CCMS that targets ELL students as well as a Latino success mentor to help students get back on track at the secondary level.
House Bill 3499 has also funded the ELL After-School Math Tutorial, which teachers say has already proven beneficial.
"This program is in its infancy this year, but it's something we're extremely excited about," CCMS Principal Kurt Sloper said, noting that it's the result of a lot of teacher collaboration.
Dawna Spencer, a CCMS English language development teacher, teamed up with seventh-grade math teacher Jim Crouch and eighth-grade math teacher Matt Fischer to create the program.
"We saw a need for an after-school math program to support English Language Learners to help them access math concepts, mathematic language and vocabulary, to help them with their homework, and to provide them with a little more support than they were getting," Spencer explained.
The 20 to 25 CCMS students meet after school for 90 minutes each Tuesday and Thursday for six weeks. They first have dinner as part of the after-school dinner program, then meet for a short motivational video and discussion. They then break off into three groups by grade level.
"We sit in small groups. We address not only what's going on in class, but mathematic language, and we look for curriculum that's up and coming. We offer support for homework. We try to mix it up. It's a small group, so we also try to keep it light and as fun as we can," Crouch said. "I see a lot of these students are going home feeling successful but also feeling like they've had a good time."
The students were identified for the program using math assessments and teacher recommendations, and the majority of them are native Spanish speakers. Spencer contacted the families in their language of origin.
"The families felt comfortable, welcome and invited," she pointed out.
Students were then given a short pretest to help with assessments at the end of the six-week program.
The team will teach a second six-week session in February and March with many of the same students but perhaps a few new ones. There are around 60 ELL students at CCMS.
"He's teaching us what we're going to be doing in a week or two," said seventh-grader Karina Lopez. "He shows us how to do algebra, so he's teaching us ahead."
Giana Robles, also a seventh-grader, said they do better in class and it makes it easier when they've already learned it in the after-school program.
The teachers say they are already seeing the benefits of the after-school tutoring.
Crouch said one student's regular math teacher noticed an attitude change.
"Before, he was withdrawn and didn't really seem interested in math. Now, he's one of the first ones to jump in and turns his homework in," he said.
"They get their homework done, they get ahead of what the other kids are doing, so they come to class knowing," Fischer pointed out, adding that he often hears kids saying, "I'm smart. I can do this."
Spencer said they're already seeing these typically timid students raising their hands in class because they know the answers.
Fischer has already made connections with his ELL students.
"There's this one boy — he comes and checks in. I think he thinks it's every day. He wants to be there every day," Fischer laughed.