I teach in a school filled with English language learners. Most of their families are originally from Dominican Republic, followed by Mexico, then various Central and South American countries. To meet the needs of these students and their families my school and most schools like it send out letters and report cards in both English and Spanish. Pretty good effort to help our ELLs, no? There’s only one problem: not all our ELLs speak Spanish.
While the majority of the students in my class and school speak Spanish at home, a growing number do not. Over the past few years (and longer in many places) the demographics of my school’s community and the Bronx in general have been shifting to include a growing number of families from West Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. In spite of the changing ELL population, it doesn’t seem like the school or the city is keeping up pace.
A lot of ESL providers still equate ESL with speaking to the students in Spanish. And tonight I handed out English report cards to several families who don’t read or speak English fluently. If the city isn’t making report cards readily available in Arabic, Fulani, Vietnamese, Hindi and the numerous other languages spoken by our students, it needs to start. If translation into those languages is available (I imagine it is) then schools need to step up to have these materials on hand to meet the multilingual needs of their population. We all know English Language Learner doesn’t just mean Spanish Speaker. It’s time for our practice to reflect this understanding.
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