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Changing demographics reflected in English Language Learners Program
Changing demographics reflected in English Language Learners program
Posted on 10/21/2016
Changing demographics reflected in English Language Learners Program

Emerald Ridge students
Emerald Ridge students (from left) Johny Vasquez, Eduardo Landa, Valeria Almao, Andrew Viniarski (teacher), Ramin Sserbakow, Abanoub Wissa

Many of us know what it’s like to be the new kid in school. Imagine being the new kid in a school where you do not speak the language.

That is the experience for a growing number of students in Puyallup. This school year alone Puyallup schools welcomed 179 additional students whose primary language is not English, and that number continues to grow.

There are more than 50 languages spoken at home as the primary language by students in the Puyallup School District.

A visit to Andrew Viniarski’s class at Emerald Ridge recently provided a glimpse into the rich cultural diversity that exists in our schools.

Viniarski is one of seven English Language Learner (ELL) certificated teachers throughout the district. The ELL program provides resources to supplement the students’ basic educational program. The purpose of ELL is to teach English to non-English speaking students who qualify for services using the state guidelines.

Viniarski has 93 students in three different schools — Emerald Ridge, Ferrucci, and Glacier View. His students speak Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Ukrainian, Moldovan, Korean, Hindi, and Vietnamese – to name a few.

“My students all share the same
common goal — to be successful.”
             - ELL Teacher Andrew Viniarski

There are two different levels of English that students need to learn. The first is Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills (BICS) which usually takes a year to learn. These are ‘survival language’ skills according to Viniarski, such as being able to go shopping or communicate during lunch or on the playground. The second level is the Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency Skills (CALPS). These are much more difficult to acquire and can take years — for some up to five years to learn.

Emerald Ridge students
During a brief interview with Viniarski, two students came to visit him and ask his advice. The students had each arrived in the United States three years ago not knowing the English language – one from Egypt and one from Russia. They are now very good friends. While still in the ELL program, they attend regular classes now, yet they return to the teacher who started them on their journey through Puyallup schools.

When the bell rang and it was time to start his next class, another former student, originally from El Salvador, stopped in to say hello to Mr. Viniarski. She wanted him to know that she had received straight A’s in her classes last semester. Her sister and brother are current students of Viniarski. He describes them as very hardworking and responsible.

As students arrived for class Viniarski greeted each one warmly. Each stopped to share a story with him or answer his questions. He introduced a student who is fluent in Spanish as she arrived. Although she no longer receives ELL services, she comes to give back by volunteering her time each week tutoring students as they learn the English language.

ERHS Teacher Andrew Viniarski

The Emerald Ridge Spanish teachers offer their students an opportunity to volunteer after school to help ELL students with homework while practicing their Spanish at the same time.

Viniarski described the student curriculum and the structure of his class. The students use a workbook and they also work on assignments from their regular classes. He said English is a very difficult language to learn because there are 26 tenses for past, present, and future. Most languages only use one expression each for past, present, or future.

When a parent or guardian enrolls a student in school they are given a home language survey. It asks about the primary language spoken by the student. If the answer is “a language other than English” then the student is tested with the Washington English Language Proficiency Assessment (WELPA) placement test. The test measures reading, speaking, listening, and writing skills.

Not every student who speaks a second language qualifies for ELL services. The students who are placed in ELL are retested every spring to see if they still qualify for program services.

Director of Instructional Leadership Dr. Arturo Gonzalez said Puyallup has a very strong structure in terms of supporting students who are learning the English language and need academic support. “The ELL program is just one of them – we also have the Language Assistance Program (LAP) and other programs that provide the language and academic support needed for school success," he added..

Gonzalez noted students whose primary language is not English are not necessarily students who are deficient. While they need language assistance, some are being identified as highly capable and may enter the Young Scholars or Quest programs. Their skills and experiences have a wide range that require different levels of support.

“It’s just like any other student —
we look at where their skills are and
identify the needs of every individual student.”

                                 - Director of Student Learning Arturo Gonzalez

The ELL program provides services to students based on the student’s level of instructional need and the resources available. An ELL student may be assigned to work with a certificated teacher outside the classroom individually or in small groups. This option supplements the regular classroom instruction based on the needs of the student. There are no self-contained classes.

Students in the classroom use a combination of ELL materials and regular classroom materials. There are also many resources available on the internet. Regardless of home language, instruction takes place in English.

Services are offered in every school. A certificated teacher may be assigned to multiple sites. There are also 17 paraeducators dedicated to serving ELL students.

Students are monitored for two years after they exit the program. Viniarski makes himself available for two hours after school on tutoring days to support any Glacier View or Emerald Ridge students needing additional support.

The district is also being proactive in encouraging school and parent partnerships. Puyallup partners with Pierce College to offer English language classes at a reduced rate to parents. This year the classes are offered at Karshner and Firgrove elementary schools. “It’s a nice set-up because Pierce College also provides daycare. It is a community service by Pierce College — to reduce barriers. They have been well attended in the past years,” said Gonzalez. As a result, parents increase their interactions with their children’s classroom teachers and become more involved in the school.

Although ELL students account for less than seven percent of the student population, there are many bilingual students throughout the district. “The trend I see as more kids are coming to Puyallup is a growing number that are speaking multiple languages,” said Gonzalez.

Nancy French