New Jersey district expands initiative to better meet the needs of English learners
- Piscataway Township Schools (NJ), where about 435 of the district's 7,000 students are English learners (ELs), has developed an expanded strategy to support these students from “cradle to career,” District Administration reports.
- The initiative includes expanding the district's preschool program, moving toward ESL certification or dual language certification for all teachers, and offering a Saturday program that provides additional support for high school students and parents.
- In response to community feedback, the schools also offer programs for younger children, before- and after-school care, and expanded access to health services for preschool children through its Early Launch to Learning initiative.
With the additional focus on ESL instruction in the Every Student Succeeds Act, school districts are taking a harder look at their current programs. The Piscataway Township district's approach seems to have some valuable insights for other school districts, such as offering ESL instruction in the early years. It is also important to connect with parents of ELs and find ways to communicate with them on a regular basis. Offering ESL courses for these parents also enhances communication, and also sets the parents—and ultimately the students—up for more success in the workplace. Some schools also expand learning time specifically for ELs in after-school programs to give them more individualized instruction and opportunities to use their language skills.
While some administrators may worry that requiring teachers to earn an ESL certification may encourage teachers to seek jobs elsewhere with their new credential, Brent Raby, the assistant superintendent for teaching and learning for West Aurora (IL) School District 129, suggests a strategy that may ease that concern. “When we looked at our shortage of ESL and special education teachers, we saw that the district had invested in plenty of professional development. However, after earning their certification, several teachers had left to teach in other districts. To ensure that our investment would benefit our students and schools, we restructured the way we reimburse teachers. Now, instead of having the district pay for a certification program, the teacher pays for it up front and then the district reimburses the teacher over the course of three years,” Raby writes.
- District Administration A school district expands an ESL initiative