Homewood District 153 is serving a melting pot of students, and not all of them come to school with an understanding of English. Or they speak English, but their parents don’t.
The numbers have been increasing. Children are enrolled whose heritage is from Nigeria, Lithuania, China, Mexico, Japan, the Philippines.
The district’s English Learners (EL) Program, formerly English as a Second Language, is designed to help students transition to English so they can be full participants in the classroom.
The district also has a number of programs to help parents acclimate so they can better function within the school community and understand their child’s school activities and assignments.
In 2013, the district served about a dozen students and had a part-time teacher. Last school year, there were 72 students served by four EL teachers. That number could go up as registration for the new school year is underway.
The district’s EL numbers were high in pre-kindergarten and the primary grades, but students do transfer in at all grade levels. For example, three years ago, Churchill School, serving third, fourth and fifth graders, had 10 students needing English language services. It was 28 students this past school year.
Kathy Schaeflein, director of curriculum, said even if the parent says the child doesn’t need services but the child speaks another language at home, the state requires students be tested for EL services.
Morgan Mackey, coordinator of grants, assessment and English Learning, is managing the federally mandated program. She also will take the lead on filing the Title III grant for federal reimbursement.
The district is mandated to show the student’s progress and test them yearly for proficiency in reading, writing, speaking and listening. The district is working the EL requirements into programs that it knows best help Homewood kids.
“In junior high, typically we pull students out for 30 to 40 minutes a day, but not in core curriculum classes. It’s usually social studies because that lends itself to reading and writing while hitting that vocabulary piece,” Mackey said.
Students who may have started in the program at a younger age will still be classified for EL services, according to Mackey. Even if students’ test results show they no longer need the program, the federal government requires that the district record student progress for four additional years to make certain they are successful in the classroom.
Mackey’s work is also helping the district recognize student diversity. She helped develop an EL book club for teachers that offers books that present different cultures.
“We really try to get books into the classroom that represent not just our students but different cultures. It helps with cultural awareness” and helps for EL students to find a representation of themselves in books, she said.
She also helps coordinate a district-wide diversity day to draw attention to different cultures. In spring 2018, the program included African drummers and Mexican dancers.
Mackey has worked to improve parent outreach, which she calls “one of the best parts of our job.” The federal government mandates that bilingual parents advisory council meetings be held four times a year. Mackey centers them around topics the parents want to hear about — their child’s education and what they need help with.
In addition, parent education meetings held three times a year have centered around a potluck dinner. Mackey designed it as an outlet for parents to ask questions and learn homework tips and how to help a student at home. One session included outreach to public services so parents could learn about the Homewood library and Prairie State College.
The district also offers parents translations of news from the District 153 website, newsletters and other important informational materials.