March Newsletter Letter
Dear Parents, Caregivers, Students and Friends,
I first arrived in Boston in 1999 in the middle of a political firestorm involving bilingual education and whether it served non-English speakers well. As a new arrival from Texas, this was particularly interesting since Texas has been dealing with migrants from its inception.
Ultimately the voters ended most bilingual instruction in the Commonwealth. As the bilingual programs were shut down, the needs of the ELL students seemed to be forgotten. Boston, like many urban centers, was a port for many new immigrants seeking a better life. Many of these new arrivals and families were left to fend for themselves in a system that had become hostile to their needs. Districts fearing lawsuits downgraded the level of language support given to
these new arrivals.
Since then, the Boston Public School Department, in response to the Justice Department, developed a set of workshops to help teachers be more sensitive to the issues of educating ELL students. These came to be known as category training. In 2012, Massachusetts joined 28 other states in the WIDA (World-class Instructional Design and Assessment) consortium. WIDA is more clearly aligned to the Common Core standards for all academic classes and does not simply rely on English instruction in English or ELL classes. The definition of literacy expands to other disciplinary discourses.
For example, kids had to understand and be proficient in the language of science, history, and math. The new curriculum expects teachers to help students read, write and understand tools utilized by the various disciplines, which might be formulas, mathematical models, graphs, charts, or timelines. To aid teachers with these new demands, the Commonwealth has approved the RETELL (Rethinking Equity and Teaching for English Language Learner) initiative, which requires training toward a certificate in SEI (Sheltered English Instruction).
Several experiences give great hope that we are making a difference in educating these students. The last part of the test requires that I interview each student. Based on answers they give to questions, I assess their language development. As I went to different classes to retrieve the students, I found them often highly involved in the activities of the day. One student was leading a class in vocal exercises.
Another student was in involved in a skit in a humanities class. Yet another was involved in designing and presenting a cell phone case. In each class language was used skillfully by the students. This type of work makes BAA a different place to teach and learn. As I listened to the students during the test, I was fascinated to see and hear them construct meaning and explain their understanding in English. I was inspired because I see them soon finding a place in our great society as productive members of our democratic society, just as our mission promises.
STEAM Faculty, Center for Arts in Education Fellow