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‘They will soar:’ CMS English Learners program supports language development, high rigor of course content

More than 25,000 students in the district are English Language learners who speak 204 different languages and dialects
More than 25,000 students in the district are English language learners who represent 184 countries and speak 204 different languages and dialects.
Published: Apr. 21, 2022 at 7:51 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools is making sure non-English speaking students are learning their core content while also learning the English language.

More than 25,000 students in the district are English language learners who represent 184 countries and speak 204 different languages and dialects.

Some of the top languages spoken in the district are Spanish, Vietnamese, Burmese, Russian, and Arabic.

The district’s English Learners or “EL” program supports language acquisition, maintaining students’ home language identity, and rigorous instruction.

More than 25,000 students in the district are English language learners who represent 184 countries and speak 204 different languages and dialects.

Nadja Trez is the executive director of Learning & Language Acquisition for CMS.

CMS data for the 2020-2021 preliminary end-of-year test results showed a sharp decline in reading scores for English Learners in third through eighth grade.

From the 2018-2019 school year to last year, students dropped from nearly twelve percent proficiency to less than five percent.

“During the pandemic one of the subgroups that were hardest hit was the English learners sub-group,” Trez said.

Her department follows the Personalized Academic Command of English (P.A.C.E.) framework which builds the capacity of educators to maximize academic achievement for ELs.

P.A.C.E. has six principles.

1. Meaningful Engagement

2. Language and Content Integration

3. High Challenge, Intentional Support

4. Amplify Not Simplify

5. All Are Assets

6. Reach Beyond the Classroom

To support ELs, the district announced last September, it was hiring more bilingual advocates in nearly 40 schools and providing translators at 5 targeted schools.

Nations Ford Elementary School principal Nick Paquette says it couldn’t come at a better time.

“A sense of hope that the future is bright, that our district and our community is recognized,” he said. “That our role in education was to impact a student’s next 70,80,90 years and their interactions as a human on the planet. We get a role in that.”

Fifth-grade teacher Gerard Littlefield is one of the teachers playing a role in his students’ success.

“The most important thing I do is help guide them,” Littlefield said.

When WBTV visited his classroom he was teaching his students about earthquakes and other natural disasters. During this lesson, an EL teacher was working with a small group of students on the same lesson while helping them process it in English and their home language.

That same core integration is what Trez says keeps students on track with their core classes while learning the English language.

“We do not have separate ESL program materials, we make sure that we build the support so that they have access to content because at the end of the day our goal is that our English learners are successful in the content area,” she said.

Part of building student success goes back to the P.A.C.E principle of reaching beyond the classroom, both Trez and Paquette say it’s critical to have this collaboration.

“We gotta have all hands on deck to make sure that we are doing it together, that includes school staff, families, and our communities,” Trez said.

“Every paid body, not just teachers, not just EL teachers, administrators, but everybody on this campus is a literacy teacher at heart,” Paquette said.

When looking at the district’s preliminary end-of-year results for 2020-2021, Paquette says it doesn’t take EL student arrivals or departures into account.

“A consequential part of that conversation that seems to simply be dismissed when we pair down the data in their state governed forms,” he said.

As the school and community continue to work with EL students, Paquette is confident the students will improve and go above and beyond not just in the classroom.

“They do soar, they will soar it’s the work that we do,” he said.

On Tuesday, CMS announced expanded learning programs for students during June, July, and August.

Related: CMS launching 2022 Expanded Learning Programming in June

Two programs are specifically catered toward newcomer EL students in grades 3-12.

  • English Learner (EL) Elementary Newcomer Language Program – This program will focus on intensive language development in English Language Arts and Math for rising third through fifth-grade novice and newcomer English Learners with an opportunity to incorporate art, movement, and technology. Students will explore, play, and engage in rigorous content that is aligned with core curriculum topics and themes to prepare them for the upcoming school year. Dates: June 20 through July 21; Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Locations: Idlewild Elementary, Newell Elementary and South Pine Academy.
  • English Learner (EL) Secondary Newcomer Language Program – A four-week EL program for novice, newly enrolled students rising to grades sixth through 12th. This program will support content and language development to prevent summer loss and support students with being prepared for better success in the upcoming school year. Students will participate in sessions with certified EL teachers as well as complete personalized self-paced tasks. Dates: June 20 through July 21; Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Locations: Garinger HS, Julius L. Chambers HS and Harding University H

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