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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Students Bring the World to Fort Thomas Schools

Lily Hennigan, Mary Kinsella and Elizabeth Winkler share information about English language learning at Fort Thomas schools.

It’s a big world out there but developing global communication skills and cultural awareness makes it feel smaller and more manageable. Learning more than one language is a valuable skill for all students, but for some, it is essential.

For 42 students at Fort Thomas schools, English is not their first language. The English Language or EL Program provides support for those students who need language help. The program helps the students learn English while they in turn enrich the school community through sharing of their home cultures and languages with English-speaking students.

Students at Fort Thomas schools speak a variety of languages from 20 different countries. About 40 percent of the English learners speak Spanish as their primary language, but other languages include German, Turkish, Tamil, Romanian and Mandarin Chinese.

The EL Program

At the November Fort Thomas School Board meeting, Elizabeth Winkler, EL program consultant for Northern Kentucky Cooperative for Educational Services (NKCES) and Moyer Elementary EL teacher Mary Kinsella shared information about the students across the district who receive EL services and support. They were joined by Lily Hennigan, a peer tutor in the program and student at Highlands High School.

Winkler said her job is to help ensure that within the eight school districts in the region served by NKCES that all federal and state guidelines for EL students are met. Her goal, she said, is to help English language learners in our communities achieve academic success.

She described the process used to identify those who need services. When a family enrolls in school, they answer four home language survey questions. If the answer to any of the questions is not English, they may qualify for EL services.

Students then take a screening assessment to determine their level of comfort and familiarity with English. If the student scores lower than 4.5 on a proficiency scale of 1 to 6, they are eligible for EL support services.

Once in the EL program, students take an annual assessment to follow their progress. If a student from the program scores 4.5 or higher, they move into a four-year monitoring period. At present, the Fort Thomas district as 17 students in monitoring.

Providing service and support

Moyer teacher Kinsella explained how services are provided to her students. At Moyer, 30 students in kindergarten through fifth grade are in the EL program and six are in the monitoring period.

She works with students one on one or in small groups and collaborates with classroom teachers and student peer tutors. She also works closely with classroom and special area teachers to support the students’ academic plans and with the transportation director to ensure EL students outside the Moyer district are transferred into the school to receive services.

Winkler shared facts about the success of the EL program at Fort Thomas. Forty students took the annual assessment test in January 2018. Of those, 10 students, or 25 percent, scored high enough to exit the program, well above the state average, and 16 students increased their proficiency level.

Family and community involvement

Family and community involvement are very important to the program and to student success. "We try to get our families involved and engaged. I collaborate with Elizabeth [Winkler] and our PTO and with our families in having engagement activities," she explained.

"In September we try to do something to bring the families in to encourage literacy. In the fall we bring the families in to get ready for conferences…and then again we try to promote reading over winter break."

The annual "Taste of Moyer" has become a highlight of the outreach effort. Said Kinsella, "It has been a huge success. The families felt comfortable and afterwards said they were just overwhelmed that we wanted them there. We wanted them to feel part of our community, a part of the Moyer family."

Building key strengths

Hennigan said in her role as peer tutor she attends classes with EL students and helps them after school with homework as well. The benefits for her run two ways.

"I started peer tutoring in order to build my Spanish curriculum, but I ended up working with students from many different backgrounds and also many different skill levels… It's awesome this year. I don’t have the same students, but I can see the students I had last year in the hallway or at football games, ask them how they are doing and if they need any help."

Global communication is a key strength identified in the Fort Thomas Portrait of a Graduate. Board member Karen Allen pointed out that Hennigan is developing this skill in her EL work as well as becoming a empathetic collaborator, another key goal in the portrait.

Allen sees benefit to all students, those whose first language is English and those whose primary language is not English, and she also noted the community benefit. "When I saw the slide of all the languages I thought this is something our community needs to see. We are growing; we are changing; we have people for whom we need to be inclusive."

The Fort Thomas EL Program at a Glance

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