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Amy Picker teaching classLearning a new language can be difficult for anyone. It can be downright daunting when you are six years old and have just moved from halfway around the world.

Fortunately, students with little or no English are getting the support they need at Genet Elementary School through the district’s centralized elementary ENL program. The school has 34 English Language Learners (ELL) who speak 16 different languages, such as Chinese, Burmese, Urdu and Yoruba.

The number of elementary ELL students in the district has doubled since 2015-16, due to a variety of factors, including families moving to the area for work in technology-related jobs and refugees fleeing their home countries. Additionally, ELL students are staying in the program longer because of an updated state mandate that requires students to receive ENL services for two years after they test out of the program and are classified as “commanding.”

Chart showing growth of elementary ELL program

Elementary ELL Growth
2014-15: 15 students
2015-16: 16 students
2016-17: 32 students
2017-18: 34 students

Because of the sharp enrollment increase, the district is doing everything it can to provide students the necessary services to learn English and grade-level content.

  • Increased staff to 3.5 FTE for 2017-18 and have a budget proposal for an additional .5 FTE next year
  • Provided professional development for teachers by working with the Regional Bilingual Education Resource Network through Questar III BOCES
  • Secured $29,991 in grant money to provide new curriculum resources and fully fund a summer ENL program for July 2018
  • Continued a successful annual ENL Parent Orientation

“The services and programs that have been implemented to support our ENL students and their families is indicative of our entire school-community’s goal of ensuring that we are best meeting the needs of all students that we serve,” said Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction James McHugh.

Amy Picker teaching student

Genet third grade teacher Amy Picker helps an ELL student in her class with reading.

ELL students have shown positive gains. For the group of students who were in the elementary ENL program in 2014-15, they have averaged a 17 point improvement on the New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test – which assesses speaking, reading, writing and listening skills – and three students (20 percent) have successfully tested out of the program.

Ida Marie Lindberg is the only full time ENL teacher at Genet. The workload is supplemented by three other ENL teachers, two of whom work at Goff and Columbia. Each of them go into classes with classroom teachers for integrated services and pull students out for standalone services in small groups.

“The work is very challenging but at the same time, it is so rewarding,” Mrs. Lindberg said. “It is interesting to work with students from all over the world and I am always learning from them.”

Mrs. Lindberg and her colleagues note that every student is unique and acquires English differently. They come in at different proficiency levels, their families may speak English or their native languages at home, and some are learning a new culture.

Genet follows best practices and groups their ELL students into one or two sections at a particular grade level. This allows for greater instructional efficiency. That said, the students need support in everything they do, so it can be challenging for a teacher to instruct two dozen students, while individually trying to help ELL students or kids having trouble with the material.

“In our 3rd grade class, no two students are the same,” said 3rd grade teacher Amy Picker, who has four ELL students in her class. “Each student brings with them their own unique skill set. Having ELL students in the classroom has allowed the rest of us to learn about diversity firsthand. It has also challenged me as a teacher to look at my instruction through a different lens.”

Even with the challenges of trying to serve more ENL students, teachers and administrators see these children as a benefit to the entire school community.

“The students increase our diversity and raise the global awareness of our entire school community,” said Principal Ana Yeomans. “We sometimes feel like we’re the little United Nations.”