Madison schools increase multilingual offerings

Lilly Eggert Hard News Photo

Bilingual students made up 27 percent of the students in Madison public schools during 2013-2014. (Creative Commons)

by Lilly Eggert

The Madison Metropolitan School District released an English Language Learner three-year plan this fall, outlining the necessary improvements for ELL student success.

According to the plan, the overall percentage of ELL students in Madison was 27 percent in the 2013-2014 school year. There are over 90 languages spoken within the school district, with Spanish being the most widespread at 58 percent of the English language students.

For Spanish Bilingual Resource Specialist Jorge Alva-Huerto, this plan means that the students he works with and their families will have better access to a well-rounded education.

“They are going to offer more bilingual schools and dual immersion schools and that is going to help a lot of these students get an education in Spanish and English,” said Alva-Huerto.

Alva-Huerto is a bilingual resource specialist for Lapham Elementary School and Marquette Elementary School on Madison’s East side, dividing his time each day between the two schools. As a BRS, Alva-Huerto works with 30 Spanish-speaking students and their families, helping the students with their homework and in the classroom as a supplement to the primary teacher.

He serves as a role model for students who receive education from predominantly white instructors, and will participate in meetings with the children’s parents if they do not speak English. Alva-Huerto sees himself as “a liaison between the school system and the families.”

The ELL three-year plan is made up of six parts that focus on different areas of potential improvement: systems to monitor the ELL involvement, support for school staff, English as a second language services, bilingual education services, diversity within the bilingual program and community building.

Silvia Romero-Johnson, director of the Office of Multilingual and Global Education within MMSD, had a large role in putting together the plan, which can only be successful if the teachers are on board.

“One of the main focuses of the ELL plan is to build capacity for all teachers in the district to know and develop the skillset needed to support English Language Learners in the general education classroom,” Romero-Johnson said.

Once these teachers are able to support all students, barriers come down and the academic playing field becomes level, according to Romero-Johnson.

One way that MMSD creates an even field for ELL students is by allowing them to enroll in the school within their neighborhood. Romero-Johnson said that, because of this rule, “every teacher needs to learn about how to teach English Language Learners.”

Bilingualism in general is beneficial for students and Romero-Johnson said that her office celebrates that diversity. “In general, we believe that in today’s global economy, the students who develop high levels of proficiency in more than one language are at an advantage in comparison to their peers who are monolingual,” Romero-Johnson said.

Romero-Johnson said though the school district is a long way from where they want to be, she has a positive outlook: “English Language Learners represent a great asset for a community in terms of the diversity and the variety of languages. In general, immigrant families are hopeful, optimistic, hardworking. They want the best for their kids.”

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