Gateway Regional School District is what is called a 'low-incidence' district for English language learners (ELLs). In other words, we do not have many students for whom English is not their first language. In a typical school year we have a total of around 10 students in the district who are officially listed as "Limited English Proficient" (LEP) or whose English has improved to the point where they are listed as "Formerly Limited English Proficient." (FLEP) The majority of our LEP students have Russian as their primary language. Some families speak Ukrainian in addition to Russian. Other languages spoken by our LEP students' families in the last few years have been German, Japanese, and Polish.
Students who arrive at Gateway Schools with a language other than English as their primary language may have been born in a non-English speaking country, or they may have been born here in the United States. (You may be surprised to hear that the majority of English language learner students in the USA were actually born in the USA!) Their families may speak little to no English, or they may speak very good English. Every family enrolling students in the district is asked to complete a home language survey. If the survey indicates that a language other than English is used in the home, the state of Massachusetts requires that we evaluate the student's English language proficiency and then offer English language support if necessary. In some cases, a family may not speak another language at home, but their child(ren) may be eligible for English language support anyway. Families are not obliged to accept the offered language support but it is, of course, highly recommended.
Research shows that although children quickly become fluent enough in English to do well socially, it can take students anywhere from three to seven years, even with support, to reach a level of academic English on a par with their native-speaking peers. Gateway does not set a time limit on the English language support provided to students. It is available to them for as long as they need it, as evidenced in their work with the English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, in the regular classroom and on assessments. Equally, once a student is deemed by his/her teachers and the ESL teacher to no longer need the extra support, the family is informed. FLEP students' progress is monitored for 2 years, and if during that time it proves that the English language support has been withdrawn too early, it can be reinstated.
All students who are listed as English language learners are required to take the state English proficiency test, the WIDA ACCESS test in January, even if the student's family has refused English as a second language support. The test assesses students' listening, speaking, reading and writing skills in English in the following areas:
- Social & Instructional Language
- Language of Language Arts
- Language of Mathematics
- Language of Science
- Language of Social Studies
Gateway is moving towards the Sheltered English Immersion model of instruction for English language learners. This involves ensuring that all classroom teachers who have ELLs in their classes have completed the training for working with ELLs that has been mandated by the state. At this point, there are no regular classroom teachers who have completed all the trainings. ELL students spend some time working directly with the ESL teacher, in most cases every day, and spend the rest of their time in the English language mainstream classroom. Although their teachers may not have completed all the current state mandated trainings, many have prior experience of working with ELLs and/or have completed other relevant training in the past.