MVRHS seeks additional support for English language learners

Two new positions open for bilingual staff.

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The MVRHS school committee voted at its meeting Monday to begin searching for two new bilingual staff members who will assist students who are learning English as a second language.

The request for positions calls for one full-time English as a second language (ESL) teacher, and one interpreter who is bilingual in English for specific purposes (ESP), both of which are one-year positions.

On average, the high school sees an influx of nine additional English language learners (ELL) after Jan. 1 of each year. Principal Sara Dingledy said many Portuguese-speaking students transfer after the school year ends in Brazil. ELL coordinator Dianne Norton said there are currently 57 students who are in high need of additional support, with 23 of those students having little or no English proficiency. “There are five times as many ELLs as there were five years ago,” Norton said. “From 15 in 2013 to 73 in 2018 — that is a huge change. And it is continuing to grow.”

Norton said current class sizes make it difficult for the limited number of bilingual staff to address each student’s individual needs. “English language development (ELD) focuses on all four domains: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Having over 20 students in a class reduces the time and quality of listening and speaking instruction.”

Norton suggested limiting classes sizes for low-proficiency ELLs to between 16 and 19, in order to give each student the necessary attention.

One issue mentioned in the supporting evidence for the request is that ELLs are not being effectively supported in the MCAS subject areas. For instance, one student had to retake the math section of the exam seven times in order to pass. Norton said more classes should be formed in the areas of math and science that include support for those students.

Norton also said career and technical education (CTE) classes are especially difficult for ELLs, who cannot remain safe if they do not have access to the curriculum. “Almost all freshmen take CTE. Many of the incoming students are freshmen, and are participating in classes that require a certain level of English literacy,” Norton said.

As students get more proficient, they are not required by the state to take English-language development classes. However, Norton said, ESL teachers are still required to monitor those students for another five years: “That means if we are working with an eighth grader who gains a PL 3 (high beginner/low intermediate English proficiency), we are still tasked with monitoring that student till they graduate high school.”

According to Norton, there are 93 ELL students in the high school, including students who are no longer taking English-language development classes but are still being monitored: “That’s a huge number.”

Norton said the school should work on building a support system for faculty with no ESL experience.

Committee member Robert Lionette said the onus is on the board and the administration to go forward, with the understanding that the need of ELL students will be served. “There is a real educational need for our students that needs to be addressed,” he said.

Finance manager Mark Friedman said the two positions would run the school district approximately $90,000, including benefits.