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Every Student Succeeds Act: English Learning Children Not Left Behind

Written by Katy Lichon, Ph.D. on Thursday, 04 February 2016.

MC2 1182English learners (ELs) are the fastest growing population in U.S. schools at five million plus, and the newly minted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), formerly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and the newest version of the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), contains changes that will impact this population.

Reviews for ESSA’s support of ELs has been described as measured support by some members of the field and by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, as an “improvement” from previous legislation.

Here is what teachers and school leaders should know about the key changes to how states, districts, and schools serve English learners.

1.  Funding

ESSA contains major revisions to the title funding mechanisms. Overall, ESSA would authorize an increase in Title III funds, but the challenge here becomes that the number of ELs is growing at an incredibly fast pace, potentially faster than the allocated funds. It is also important to note that authorization is not equivalent to appropriation, so we can all just hope for the best.

Overall, the manner in which ESSA will calculate fund allocation will allow for more equitable access by Catholic schools. Keep your eyes posted for updates related to Title I portability and the A-PLUS provision in coming months.

2.  Accountability

While Title III funds will continue to be provided, accountability for ELs will transition from Title III to Title I. Accountability under Title I will be measured as growth toward the attainment of English proficiency. The hope here is that by including accountability for these students in a larger funding pool, they will receive more attention.

Under ESSA, there will no longer be “supersubgroups” which statistically combined multiple groups of students for the purposes of waivers. “Supersubgroups” often masked underlying inequities. Member of civil rights groups consider this to be a win and a solid step in ensuring that ELs are not overlooked.

3.  Measurement

ESSA will allow states to take over the responsibility of ensuring that the needs of ELs are met and will allow states to create their own goals and systems for assessing students annually and for deciding what steps to take in regards to the results. States will determine their own goals, one of which must be English-language proficiency. Additionally, states will still be required to test students in reading and math grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, as well as science test at three different points, but now they must break apart data for ELs, a “subgroup” of students.  

Additionally, under the current law, EL’s test scores are included in school data after they have been in the U.S. for one year. Under ESSA, this can continue or states can choose report growth over a three year progression.

Changes will also be occurring in terms of how ELs with learning disabilities and long-term ELs are reported, as well as how EL reclassification takes place.

Overall, ESSA maintains service to ELs through a commitment of federal funds and through more nuanced accountability. However, as pointed out by TESOL International, the bill could have developed the following areas further: ENL/ESL trained teachers and specialists and support for bilingual, dual language, and multilingual programs.

New Jersey Teacher Embraces Community through English Language Learning

Written by Rebecca Devine on Friday, 13 November 2015.

Saint Cecilia Catholic School in Camden, NJ, is permeated by what the students and faculty like to call a “Beatitude Attitude.” No one encapsulates that phrase better than Charlotte Brown Perez, the school’s resource teacher and a member of the 10th cohort in ACE’s English as a New Language (ENL) certification program.

Even though the local community is afflicted by poverty and violence, Perez’s school is part of its own small community that works against those negative influences.

“When the parishes were no longer able to support the schools financially,” Perez explained, “the diocesan school leaders decided to pool their resources.”

Today, the five Catholic Partnership Schools of Camden maintain their unique identities and traditions, but work hand in hand to advance the mission of Catholic education.

Even before teaching English, Perez was responsible for supporting the learning of all students as her school’s resource teacher. Many Catholic schools lack the means to support various forms of differentiated instruction, so her presence is a blessing to all.

“My lesson plan book looks like an intricately woven tapestry of grades and subjects,” Perez said. “I might be teaching seventh grade math and fourth grade reading during the same period, or eighth grade writing and fifth grade social studies the same block.”

There is no doubt that Perez’s work helps alleviate any stigma against students with special needs. Children at Saint Cecilia have come to embrace the notion that everyone learns a little differently. Perez particularly loves how she is able to empower and encourage parents.

“I get to see parents who were told their child ‘can’t’ and tell them ‘they can, and they did!” Perez said. “How amazing is that?”

Saint Cecilia, like many Catholic schools in urban areas, is full of minority and immigrant students who need extra instruction in English in order to thrive academically and socially. Perez’s particular role at Saint Cecilia did not, until recently, involve teaching English to non-native speakers. A few years ago, a colleague asked for her help during a summer ENL program, and she fell in love.  It was a smooth transition from helping her special education students to helping non-native English speakers, as the underlying principles—justice and equal dignity—are the same.

As much as Perez loves her students, though, her background as an educator was not always sufficient to help them learn English.

“My lack of formal training was preventing me from being as effective as possible,” she said.

The ENL program at the University of Notre Dame was just what Perez needed. She wanted a program that would allow her to teach—and learn—with a holistic view of her students’ lives in mind. Many of them have experienced very difficult situations, and the non-native speakers are no exception. ACE’s ENL program was a Catholic institution, she knew, designed particularly to form and educate leaders in Catholic schools.

“I am so thankful that I can talk about religion when comforting students who have experienced trauma,” Perez said. “I'm not sure I'd be able teach without talking about faith.”

Today, Perez is better equipped with skills and strategies to be an effective ENL and special education teacher, but she has always been a powerful presence in her students’ lives because of her advocacy and love.

“I pray every day that those students feel validated, that they know how special they are to know two languages, and that they know how important their cultural traditions are,” she said. “My goal in Catholic education is for all students to thrive academically, socially, and spiritually.”


Dual-Language Immersion Fosters Good Fit with Students, Catholic School Identity

Written by William Schmitt on Wednesday, 04 November 2015.


Stephanie Margetts, executive director of Holy Rosary Regional School/Juan Diego Academy (HRRS/JDA) in Tacoma, Wash., says she has seen the future—and heard it, too. She is leading an educational innovation called two-way immersion, or dual-language instruction that is transforming this Catholic school with a previously shrinking enrollment.

“Now, you walk in and you feel the energy of a bicultural school that celebrates the English and Spanish languages equally,” Margetts said. Enrollment, spanning pre-K for three-year-olds through eighth grade, increased 28 percent last year to 191 currently.

“Now, you walk in and you feel the energy of a bicultural school that celebrates the English and Spanish languages equally”

The student body is roughly half English-dominant, half Spanish-dominant. Pre-schoolers, regardless of their dominant tongue, spend their whole day speaking 100% Spanish; kindergarteners follow a 90% Spanish and 10% English model; and as of 2015, grades 1-3 maintain a 50-50 schedule, rotating one day totally in Spanish with the next immersed in English. Over several years, the approach will climb age levels, up through grade 8.

“We’ve created a model that people want,” Margetts said. Reaching out to a working class region of the state where diverse families share high aspirations for their children, “the model allows us to serve, to bring cultures together. That’s an exciting part of what we’ve been doing.”

A combination of incremental changes has kept every day exciting for students. In 2010, Holy Rosary’s enrollment had declined to 101; the Fulcrum Foundation, providing financial support to students in the Seattle Archdiocese, consulted with the foundation’s diversity committee to establish the first ever two-way immersion program in the archdiocese. The school continues to seek teachers with subject-area knowledge who are bilingual.

Experienced mentors have come together to help make the investment in HRRS/JDA bear fruit. A bilingual, bicultural teacher already on their staff became the leader of this mission—building a Catholic school whose curriculum is fully aligned with the changing demographics of the Catholic Church.  An estimated 35-40% of Catholics in the U.S. today are Latino.

In 2011, HRRA/JDA joined the Two-Way Immersion Network for Catholic Schools (TWIN-CS) initiative at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education. Dr. Tim Uhl, now superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Helena, led Holy Rosary’s transition as its principal. Dr. Bridget Yaden has worked closely with the school as a board member and as chair of a local university’s Hispanic studies department.

An estimated 35-40% of Catholics in the U.S. today are Latino.

Margetts arrived at HRRS/JDA for 2014-2015 from Sacred Heart School in Washington, D.C. Sacred Heart adopted dual-language instruction 16 years ago. Along with Escuela Guadalupe in Denver, Sacred Heart was one of the first Catholic schools in the United States to implement two-way immersion. For the past three years, TWIN-CS has supported other schools adopting this model (close to 20 in total).

Elise Heil, who leads Sacred Heart as its principal today, said the school’s enrollment has held steady around 200 students, with the two-way immersion model consistently appealing to many parents from various backgrounds, some of whom can utilize the District’s school voucher program.

This model helps schools garner interest from parents because they see it boosting academic rigor and student readiness for a diverse culture. English language-dominant families see fluency in Spanish preparing their children for a multilingual society, Heil said, adding that numerous Spanish language-dominant parents appreciate the life-skills development as well as the school’s Catholic identity. Schools have become more intentional in how to engage all families in embracing diversity.

Heill noted that immersion fosters solidarity because “everybody is a language learner.” But this two-way approach is not easily replicable among all schools, she said.

“This is still a very new model,” although the diverse, competitive D.C. education marketplace has prompted more ventures into multiple-language immersion. The model is familiar in many public schools around the country, but it is generating insights as more schools implement it.

“everybody is a language learner"

“The younger you start, the better,” Heil said, recommending that a school initiate the approach among three- and four-year-old preschoolers, then add grades incrementally over a period of years.

Sacred Heart is sharing its expertise with some of the newcomers. Heil said every school experiences challenges, including her own. Non-bilingual applicants cannot be accepted beyond second grade. No Catholic high schools in the area replicate the approach, so no long-term K-through-12 continuity exists. The model’s major sectors of growing student enrollment are in the pre-K classes.

Luis Ricardo Fraga, Ph.D., who helped start HRRS/JDA in Tacoma as a board member with the Fulcrum Foundation, continues to study the approach closely among his research topics as the Arthur Foundation Endowed Professor of Transformative Latino Leadership at the University of Notre Dame. As a political scientist and fellow of the Institute for Educational Initiatives, he has written about Holy Rosary’s transition.

“Two-way immersion in Catholic schools can be an effective mechanism for building intercultural communities that capture the richness of diverse communities,” he said. “As the Catholic Church in the United States becomes more and more multicultural, two-way immersion values both English and Spanish languages and cultures in ways fully consistent with recent statements of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.”

Fraga and other scholars have noted that the approach is well-suited to Catholic values—a respect for the dignity of distinct cultures, the notion of a “common good” to be pursued by all, and a special care for those on society’s margins.

Although the resources available for language education models will differ among schools, the stewardship of those resources takes place in a strong family context, as Heil pointed out.

“We’re kind of a home for many immigrant families, and the Catholic piece is something that brings us all together,” she said of Sacred Heart School. “We have a shared mission and a shared goal. Becoming a bilingual school really benefits the entire population.”

Celebrating Día de los Muertos: A Melding of Indigenous and Catholic Traditions

Written by Clare Roach, M.Ed. on Thursday, 15 October 2015.

Clare Roach, Coordinator of the English as a New Language (ENL) program, offers advice and resources for educators to celebrate the Latino cultural traditions of Día de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos 2Celebrating Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, in Catholic school classrooms in the United States is a magnificent way to encourage students to pray for and honor deceased family and friends. It also provides an opportunity for Mexican and Central American-origin students to witness their school community learning from the beauty and richness of their own cultural heritage. Observing Día de los Muertos in school doesn’t just help students celebrate their culture, it helps them sustain it.

Like Halloween, Día de los Muertos is a holiday linked to the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls in the Catholic liturgical calendar. But, unlike Halloween, which is largely about candy and parties, Día de los Muertos is a family-centered holiday that celebrates the lives of loved ones who have died and the generations of ancestors who have gone before us. From family picnics at grave sites to lavishly decorated home altars to the aroma of marigolds and pan de muerto, the celebration of Día de los Muertos is as beautiful as it is profound. The following resources and lessons will help children young and old learn about this magnificent holiday.



  • Dia de los Muertos 3Food for the Ancestors is a 60-minute DVD produced by PBS that explains Day of the Dead through food, art and celebration. It takes viewers to the streets, homes, bakeries, cemeteries and churches of Puebla, Mexico, and presents one of the most colorful, in-depth portraits of the holiday. Order this DVD from PBS for teachers to watch and integrate into their lessons.
  • Discover Day of the Dead is a 5-minute video from The Discovery Channel that shows a quick glimpse of how Day of the Dead is observed in Patzcuaro, Mexico.
  • The PBS cartoon characters, Maya and Miguel, explain the holiday to young viewers in a 22-minute episode. Here’s a two-minute snippet of the program in which Maya’s abuelita explains why the beautifully decorated calavera (skull) is so important to her.


Reading Materials

  • The November 2010 edition of Scholastic News magazine focuses exclusively on Día de los Muertos. You can find digital downloads of the magazine here.
  • "All Saint’s Day All Night" is beautiful story from Highlights for Kids magazine (November 2010 issue) that shows how a similar holiday is celebrated in Poland!  It provides another great opportunity to spotlight how different cultures celebrate the Feast of All Saints and All Souls.


Art and Activities

  • Create ofrendas: Have students make alters to celebrate loved ones who are deceased. This lesson plan from the University of North Carolina excellent ideas. Extensions of this activity include:
    • History: Create an ofrenda for historical figures.
    • Language Arts: Create an ofrenda for characters in a novel.
    • Religion: Create an ofrenda for a saint or decorate an altar in the church or cemetery on the school's property.
  • This Day of the Dead Educational Activity Guide is a wonderful collection of readings and activities (includes a step-by-step lesson on papel picado) produced by the Museum of Mexic-Arte in Austin, Texas. It takes a very cross-cultural perspective and provides multiple ideas for art activities.


Want to learn more about culturally sustaining pedagogy? Apply to the ENL Program today.


Photos by Nathan Solis, courtesy of the Eastsider LA.
Originally appeared in Students learn about love, death & Dia de los Muertos at an East L.A. cemetery, October 30, 2014.

Expanding Pre-K Options Serves Dual Purpose for Catholic Schools

Written by William Schmitt on Tuesday, 29 September 2015.

preschoolbig copyYou might say early-childhood teacher Courtney O’Grady, with help from her students aged three and four, as well as their parents, is writing the book on pre-kindergarten classes as a growing force in Catholic schools.

“One of my favorite annual projects is to make a book—with help from the children’s families—called Future Saints, Class of xxxx, whatever year they will graduate,” said O’Grady, who teaches pre-school at the Cathedral of St. Raymond Catholic School in Joliet, IL.

“We talk about how the kids can all be friends to Jesus and maybe become saints one day. Our book incorporates pictures of each child as a baby, with the story behind the name they were given and also a current picture.”

Each student gets a turn to take the book home. “I love involving families with projects like this because I also feel a responsibility to help parents feel included, welcomed, and valued,” O’Grady said in a recent interview. “I think we need to partner with families so they feel motivated to participate in their child’s faith formation.”

This is not your typical pre-K class or “day care” experience. But pre-K offerings have multiplied in Catholic schools around the country. One University of Notre Dame scholar’s report, completed in 2013, concluded that “early-childhood programming is already a key component of the Catholic educational enterprise,” with pre-school enrollment in 11 (arch)dioceses studied having risen 20 percent over five years.*

Data from the National Catholic Educational Association show that 11.3 percent of total enrollments in Catholic elementary schools (through grade 8) were in pre-school classes as of 2014-2015, up from 8.4 percent ten years earlier.

The trend is not gigantic, but noteworthy initiatives are helping to drive the numbers, according to educators. One is the faith-based element of “new evangelization” Catholic schools are extending to children of a younger age—and, importantly, to their parents—when they set up pre-school programs.

Another factor is the fit some Catholic schools have found as they pursue dual goals—pre-school growth and an increase in Latino enrollment—at the same time.  

“The best way to make sure you have robust enrollments is to create opportunities for more families to come,” said Patrick Patterson, principal of Roanoke Catholic School in Virginia, where a class for 4-year-olds was recently revived to complement the kindergarten-through-high school curriculum.

Patterson resumed pre-K4 this year, seeing an opportunity that earlier budgeting models had missed. Technically, pre-school classes for kids age 3 and 4 had failed to pay for themselves, although a small “pre-K3” class, formed earlier to meet parents’ needs, has continued.

A new factor has emerged. The Diocese of Richmond has ramped up its Segura Initiative, which promotes Latino enrollments in diocesan schools. English language learners are the fastest growing population in U.S. schools, creating both challenges and opportunities.

One key to the initiative in Richmond is grassroots recruitment conducted by members of the Latino community called Segura Advocates. The idea parallels the “madrinas” model of outreach from the Catholic School Advantage Campaign and the Latino Enrollment Initiative, both led by Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE).

As more Latino families have learned about the quality and affordability of Catholic schools, enrollments have increased. Roanoke Catholic recommitted to both “pre-K4” and “pre-K3” classes when the number of prospective students attracted by the Segura program jumped by 50 percent, Patterson said.

“What we’re finding, as parents start to look at moving their kids from a public school to a Catholic school, you’re not looking at a single student from each Latino family, but rather 3, 4, or 5 kids,” because the extended family doesn’t want to divide its children between different schools.

Roanoke wants to help keep the families together, and it can innovate—with tuition structures, the tapping of community resources available to kids in all schools, and versatile scheduling of its teachers, specialists and aides, for example—to ease the budgetary challenges for all concerned, too.

“It’s a really exciting time,” Patterson said. Besides meeting working families’ needs and building community engagement, more students in all the grades are benefiting from what sociologists have called the Catholic School advantage—a boon for disadvantaged students overcoming academic achievement gaps. More access to pre-kindergarten courses, taught by educators trained in early-childhood, special education, and English as a New Language skills, can spark cognitive growth earlier.

Joana Camacho, principal of Sacred Heart School in Oklahoma City, sees a big difference between students who enter in her school’s pre-K4 class and those who start in kindergarten. “It’s like night and day in their readiness for learning,” she said.

O’Grady, who studies English as a New Language teaching through ACE, added there’s a literacy advantage. “In early childhood, we are in a position to truly support English language learners, or dual language learners.” Early literacy gains in one language improve second-language literacy, broadening improvements in learning through future grades.

A school’s increases in both Latino enrollment and pre-K enrollment benefits everyone, Patterson said. Students with non-Latino backgrounds gain valuable exposure to global cultures, languages, and perspectives.

Camacho, the Oklahoma City principal who participates in Notre Dame’s Latino Enrollment Initiative, added that her school extends its teaching vocation to Latino families in its inner-city neighborhood. A “parent university,” held on Saturdays, offers instruction on such topics as Internet safety, how to enrich kids’ study skills, and nutrition and wellness. “Everybody is learning,” Camacho said.

Patterson added he has seen parents attracted to join the Catholic Church through their children’s experiences. “Your parents are more engaged when you get kids involved at a younger age.”

St. Raymond’s has drawn Joliet families closer to the Church simply because they “felt so welcomed and supported by our school and community,” O’Grady agreed.

The power of community is the ultimate differentiation from typical day care centers and public pre-schools. Non-Catholic alternatives have proliferated around Roanoke, according to Patterson, but only the school he leads can claim 126 years of engagement and experience. The attention to learning and growing that begins in pre-K3 and pre-K4 “is not a new recipe for us.”   

There’s also a taste of O’Grady’s Saints book in the Catholic school mix. “You’ve got God’s presence every day, and you’re able to talk about that,” Patterson said. “We’re able to weave in some of the morals and ethics pieces that cannot be discussed in the public sector, even in pre-K.” 

_ _ _ _

*Prof. James Frabutt, on the faculty of ACE’s Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program, published a report in Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice in 2013. The study, “Reaching the Youngest Hearts and Minds: Interviews with Diocesan Leaders Regarding Catholic Early Childhood Education,” concluded that “early childhood programming must be considered a strategically significant component of the Catholic educational enterprise.” Dioceses see Catholic schools evangelizing whole families, Frabutt reported. “There was a sense that helping these young hearts and minds grow in the Catholic faith was a particularly life-giving ministry, but one that also reaches deeply into parental faith development and catechesis.”

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