English language learners (ELLs) are not a monolithic population. They come from different countries, have different levels of English exposure at home, and have widely different educational needs. Here, two district leaders discuss their approaches to giving every ELL the best possible chance at reaching their literacy goals.
Vicky B. Saldala: Seeing Bilingualism as an Asset
Broward County Public Schools (BCPS) is the sixth-largest school district in the nation and the second largest in the state of Florida. In a diverse student population, with students representing 208 countries and 181 languages, ELLs comprise almost 14 percent of our student body. Promoting language development and achievement for our students has always been my priority; however, when Florida joined the WIDA Consortium in 2015, my team and I saw an opportunity for improvement.
As BCPS began to explore WIDA, we immediately recognized the opportunity to set a common language when it came to providing instruction to our ELLs. It was time to change our role from “compliance specialists” to “instructional specialists.” We collaborated with other academic departments to integrate the WIDA Framework into all professional development and curriculum. From there, we started working with the leadership teams at our schools, presenting language acquisition to their staff as we redirected our focus from what ELLs can’t do to what they can do.
There were multiple challenges, of course. Our ELL population is very diverse across the district, and some of our newly arrived students come to us with limited or interrupted formal schooling. When we looked at the data, my team discovered that many of these students are at the high school level. As a result of our new efforts, BCPS is accommodating this select group and will be opening our first International Academy this fall at one of our high schools. The Academy will focus on newcomer ELLs, providing them with a sheltered model of instruction until they reach a level of proficiency where they can be successful in the mainstream.