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Multi-faceted bilingual programs look to serve students, parents - Odessa American: Education

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Multi-faceted bilingual programs look to serve students, parents

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Posted: Sunday, October 1, 2017 5:30 am

Depending on grade level and campus, bilingual education at Ector County Independent School District means different things.

For Maribelle Minyard, a first-grade bilingual teacher at Jordan Elementary School, it’s hands-on activities and visuals for her students. Minyard, who has been teaching at the same campus for 25 years, said bilingual education is a controversial topic, but if it is done correctly, it works.

It’s thought that because they are teaching in Spanish, that’s the language they want to keep, but that’s not the case, Minyard said. She teaches her students all the academic topics, uses English throughout the day and reviews vocabulary words with them.

“Our focus is to get them to learn English, but at the same time, we’re building that academic foundation in the language they came to us (with) so that they’re not behind in second or third grade when they’re already speaking more English. I’ve already taught them to read. I’ve taught them to add. I’ve taught to subtract,” Minyard said.

“We know they have to have English to be successful and productive in our society,” she added.

Minyard said bilingual teachers also are required to provide 45 minutes of English as a second language instruction at all grade levels.

Executive Director for Bilingual/ESL Education Betsabe Salcido said 32 languages are spoken in ECISD. If the student speaks a language other than Spanish, they receive English as a second language.

Salcido said the district has to determine which students are eligible for bilingual services; however, parents can decide to deny them.

“For our accountability purposes, they continue to be English language learners even though they’re not receiving services,” Salcido said.

“This last year, we had an initiative to … provide support to identify who those students are and have smaller group communication with them, as well as looking at how they’re scheduled and how they’re served on campus, making sure the teacher knows their needs, that they may still have gaps and that they may still have language needs. That was our initiative last year and we did see improvement,” Salcido said.

Through the years, ECISD’s bilingual program has been under scrutiny from the Texas Education Agency because of low test scores, but Spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said they have improved.

There also is a shortage of bilingual teachers, which are hard to come by not only in Odessa, but statewide. Salcido said there are currently 14 bilingual teacher vacancies.

The past several years, ECISD has recruited bilingual teachers from Spain, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

“I don’t think people realize how short we are of bilingual teachers in the classroom,” Minyard said. “Most of the imported teachers are only here on three-year visas, so when they’re gone we have that void again and we have to find someone else. We, as veterans training these teachers and mentoring these teachers, we get them good and trained and they leave so it’s like a vicious cycle. We start all over again,” Minyard said.

One of the difficulties is that teachers from outside the United States have never been in an American school and have no idea what type of classroom set-up we have. To be a good teacher, she said instructors have to be organized and ready to go when the children walk into the classroom.

Teachers also need to have the materials they need for their classes. Because she’s been teaching so long, she has lots, but a newer teacher might not. If teachers have to take time to find materials, they will lose their students, Minyard said.

“Last year, I mentored a teacher from Spain. He did really well, but he was overwhelmed. I think the thing is time. We don’t have enough time to do everything we need (to). Staying organized and planning, … that takes time,” Minyard said.

Additionally, teachers from outside America don’t have the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR test, to deal with. Minyard added that teachers are constantly monitoring and assessing students trying to get students caught up who need to be caught up.

“The STAAR test puts a lot of pressure on us, even in kinder and first grade. Even though our kids don’t take the STAAR test, we’re laying that foundation for them. It’s changed a lot in 25 years,” Minyard said.

She added that the number of bilingual children has grown at Jordan since she’s been there and there are now two bilingual teachers at each grade level.

During class, she said what she’s doing with her first-graders is what she did when she taught second grade 25 years ago because standards have changed. In kindergarten 25 or 30 years ago, students took naps, fingerpainted and had kitchens they could play house in during their free time.

Now the kitchens have disappeared and there is no nap time, Minyard said.

“We just don’t have that luxury anymore. They need to be kids. Here we are teaching them to read, teaching them letter sounds. If they’re not reading in first grade, I label them as already being behind because I’ve got to take them from this point to that point and there’s just not enough time in the year. The state of Texas puts a lot of pressure on us,” she said.

Because the district didn’t do well in writing on the STAAR as a whole, the focus is on getting students to write more frequently.

Despite the added pressure, Minyard still loves her job.

“I love first grade. I love my campus. We have a great community out here,” Minyard said. “My coworkers and I, most of us have taught 10-plus years. That makes a difference. The bilingual teachers here at Jordan are a unified team. Not only do we teach together, but we’re also good friends. We socialize together.”

“We consider ourselves a tight-knit group. I think that makes it easier for me to get up every morning and come to work. I like the kids out here and the parents are awesome. We have great bilingual parents at Jordan,” Minyard added. “Parent involvement will make or break any situation in the classroom. You just want to have that positive parent involvement and the kids benefit from it.”

Salcido said the district has transitional bilingual programs and dual language programs, which have some similarities but they are structured differently.

“For example here in ECISD, we have the transitional late-exit bilingual program. What that means for us is that once a student is identified as an ELL (English language learner), then he can be served in a bilingual program. If it’s at the elementary level, this means that he will receive instruction in English and in Spanish because we use their native language, their first language, which in many cases is Spanish,” Salcido said.

“We reinforce their native language and then transfer those skills into English — into their new language — so we support their native language while we’re moving them into English,” she added.

ECISD has about 5,000 students identified as English language learners. That includes bilingual and ESL. That includes about 3,200 in the bilingual program and 1,800 in ESL.

Prekindergarten through fifth grade is bilingual. “We have 24 campuses that offer bilingual in ECISD. We have six campuses that offer ESL. In the middle school, we offer our ESL pull-out. Then at the high school, we offer our ESL content-based,” Salcido said.

For the bilingual program, students are served by a bilingual teacher.

Students receive instruction in English and Spanish. The lower the grade level, the more support the students get in their native language, so they start transitioning more and more into English until they’re in the fifth grade.

“By the fifth grade they’re receiving instruction 90 percent in English and 10 percent in Spanish,” Salcido said.

If a student is in an ESL program at the elementary level, their teacher could be ESL certified, meaning she is supporting English language development in the classroom, but the class they are in is a monolingual classroom. Or the student could be receiving services from an ESL traveling teacher who will pull them out for 45 minutes every day to receive English language support.

Program Specialist Gloria Phillips said in middle school for the English language arts, students are served by an ESL certified teacher. Several secondary content teachers also have become ESL certified.

“But for middle school, we tell them they need an ELA or a reading ESL certified teacher. At high school, we prefer the ESL certified English or reading teacher …” Phillips said.

Instructional strategies may include sheltered instruction, which involves more visuals, sentence stems, working with academic vocabulary, modeling for them and more hands-on activities, Salcido said.

Minyard said a lot of veteran teachers have left bilingual teaching in the past few years, either through retirement or becoming a reading coach or gifted and talented teacher. She said there are also a lot of substitute teachers and it’s hard to fill those gaps when you’ve had veteran teachers in those spots with a lot of experience.

Overall, though, Salcido said ECISD has a great program that is making strides.

“I have a great team that I work with every day. We have outstanding teachers out at the campuses and I believe that our students are excelling. We are seeing growth,” Salcido said.

“We put several things in place we reinforced the transitional bilingual late-exit model by creating and reinforcing the linguistic sequence, that is how many minutes of instruction kids are taught in either language,” Salcido said.

Salcido also likes to foster a collaborative environment between bilingual and those who teach in English only.

“We have provided professional development for our bilingual teachers. This is to create instructional capacity, especially in areas where we do have vacancies so we want to make sure that our teachers who are first-year teachers, new to the district or even long-term subs, that they get training and support from our department,” she added.

Instructional capacity is providing instructional strategies, resources, coaching, modeling —“anything like that that will help in the classroom.”

Teachers and substitutes receive the support they need to make sure bilingual students are receiving a quality education, Salcido said.

Professional development is provided in all areas. Specialists and coordinators go into the classroom and show how to present a lesson plan and will work with small groups of students to help support the teachers, Salcido said.

Cameron Dual Language Magnet offers an instructional model where students learn a second language through academic instruction.

The program develops the English and Spanish languages while enhancing cross-cultural understanding, the school’s website said.

“… At that campus, they have students who are English proficient and students who have been identified as ELL (English language learners) and they are provided instruction in English and in Spanish, so the goal there is that they will be biliterate in both languages. We have seen great success with that campus, as well,” Salcido said.

Students from the bilingual program have been successful in the college preparation program

AVID, which stands for Advancement via Individual Determination.

The bilingual department also offers parental support.

Salcido said there is an English Language Development Academy for parents and a Spanish class for ECISD employees so they can learn the language. The classes are offered from 4:45 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. on Tuesdays at Bowie Middle School. Daycare is provided for school-age children.

“Our bilingual teachers are the ones that provide the lessons. …,” Salcido said. “… We’ve had it for several years. We’ve seen an increase in enrollment. We’ve seen parents coming back the second year. We have different levels. That’s something else — it’s not just the same level for everyone. We have a test and determine what level they are in their language proficiency.”

“We have both parents coming to the classes. There’s a little competition there. It is a sacrifice sometimes for parents to come in and after work, rushing to pick up the kids, homework all of those factors that might keep them from attending. But they make the time and they’re very excited about it. You just can see that they take pride in what they’re doing,” Salcido said.

Phillips said there also is a parenting partners program as a way to get parent involvement in schools.

“It works on family development … and strategies they can use to help their kids. … Eventually they start learning and they’re being trained and they become the teachers,” Phillips said.

Salcido said there is a strong guidance counseling component to it that supports the family and the communication and relationships between students and parents.

“At the same time, you’re bringing the parents to the campus and that’s also a key to a successful program,” she said.

Phillips noted that the programs bring parents to campuses more and makes them feel more at home at the schools.

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