Online Education Challenges for ELL students
By Cody Downey
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Since the closure of schools on March 16, education has moved online. The closure has posed a real change of pace for students, especially to those with limited English proficiency, commonly referred to as English Language Learners (ELL).
According to the most recent statistics from the Louisiana Department of Education, 4.08% of students have been identified as having limited English proficiency. Out of all the school districts, Jefferson Parish Public Schools and New Orleans Public Schools have some of the highest English Learner populations with 17.99% and 6.61%, respectively.
With the move to online education, schools had to work harder to keep these students learning and engaged. New Orleans Public Schools advised their schools to connect with their students and families and work with them to change their instruction plans as needed. “NOLA Public Schools continues to work with and support schools as they implement their continuous learning plans,” NOLA-PS said. “Schools have planned to address the needs of all their students, including their ELL populations.”
With approximately 3,000 English Learners in their district, schools have had to reach out more than ever before to ensure the continuation of education.
At Sophie B. Wright Charter School, Charter Director Sharon Clark said her school has been constantly reaching out to their 40 ESL students. They have provided meals and sent numerous messages to provide equipment.
“We made sure that our students had computers and internet hot spots. If the students could not come and get the needed items, we brought the items to them,” Clark said. “We are a family at Wright, and every student counts.”
According to Clark, all students that were in the ESL program graduated, and were able to pick up their diplomas. “We are proud of all of our students and will do anything we must to make sure that they are successful,” she said.
In Jefferson Parish, the school district had to make similar arrangements to provide education and accommodations to their 9,025 English Learners.
According to Executive Director of Language Equity and Acquisition Karina Castillo, the school district transitioned into online learning for these students by assigning ESL staff to online classrooms and reaching out to individual students.
“Providing individualized accommodations for each student is our goal,” Castillo said.
However, the transition has not been completely easy for English Learners. Kathy Hall, an ESL teacher at Marrero Middle School, said that the biggest struggle for these students is access to technology and to the internet. According to Hall, the extent of some English Learners’ access to technology is their smartphones.
“Google Classroom and many of the programs being used are not compatible with proper functioning on a cellphone,” Hall said. “Even those who do have access to computers or Chromebooks still were not trained in how to access and use the Google Classroom features and tools.”
Along with this, Hall said that for English Learners, learning can be even harder when they need a more face-to-face or hands-on type of instruction. “They are already limited in English, so trying to communicate online in English [and assess] what it is that they do not understand in order to receive the help they need, sometimes seems or feels insurmountable,” she said.
Castillo echoed the same problems by saying that access to technology was the biggest challenge. However, she said that there has been a lot of good work done on the district’s part in trying to help these and other students.
“Since our buildings have closed, we’ve served around half a million grab & go meals to children, provided online learning resources to families, distributed over 70,000 printed learning packets, and have loaned over 5,000 Chromebooks to families,” she said.
With the end of the school year, Castillo said that the district will be looking to students and their families to help them move forward.
“As we plan for next school year, we are seeking input from families on how the pandemic has impacted them, how we have helped and where we can improve,” she said.