At the School Committee meeting on October 18, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Steve Bussiere presented an update on the ESOL program, which was formerly known as the English Language Learners (ELL) program. Under civil rights laws, schools are mandated to identify students with limited English proficiency skills and provide the services they need to get a good education.
Students are identified by means of the Maine Department of Education’s Language Use Survey, which is given to every student in Pre-K through grade 12 enrolling in a school district for the first time. The Survey asks what language(s) the child first spoke or understood, what language(s) the child most easily speaks or understands, and what language(s) people use with the child on a daily basis. If any of the questions are answered with a language other than English, the student will be screened to determine if they qualify for ESOL services.
In Sanford, 40 students are currently receiving direct ESOL services, and another four are on monitor status. Four students who are new to the U.S. are currently in the screening process. The native languages of students in the program this year are Spanish, Khmer, Arabic, Patois, Vietnamese, Thai, Creole, Portuguese and Cantonese. The number of students in the program has increased substantially since October 2020, when there were only 25 students receiving services.
ESOL students have a Personalized Learning Plan (PLP) that identifies the goals they are working toward and the amount of service they will receive. Students in the program receive at least one or two periods of ESOL per day, based on their level of proficiency. Services must be provided by a certified ESOL-endorsed teacher. Parents/guardians may decline the services.
Every year, students in the program are assessed on their listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. Once they achieve a certain level of proficiency, they no longer receive services, but are put on monitor status for two years.
Mr. Bussiere told the Committee that Sanford is seeing a wider variety of languages spoken by students than ever before. Fortunately, technology has made providing services to these students much easier than in the days when face-to-face translators were the only means of communicating. Now with a service called LanguageLine, they are able to quickly connect with translators online. Documents can be more easily translated as well. Google Translate is another tool they use.
While having students spread across the district can make providing services a challenge, he said the ESOL program’s two full-time teachers, Theresa Webber and Neisha McGuckin, have done a great job. In addition to teaching, they arrange everything from transportation to interpreters for the parents, and make sure the students have the resources they need to succeed. “They are critical to helping these families feel welcome in our school system,” he said. He added that in future, the School Department would be looking to add teachers who are certified for regular instruction as well as ESOL, to add flexibility to the program.