Description: Newly arrived immigrant students share about their high school experiences in Connecticut and their future goals. A bilingual school leader provides context about successes and challenges.
For information about English Learner classified students’ educational rights:
Office for Civil Rights: Schools’ Civil Rights Obligations to English Learner Students and Limited English Proficient Parents
The following audio transcript is machine-generated and may contain errors.
SOPHIA: Welcome to Learning with Multilingual Students, a podcast for educators working with students classified as English Learners. I’m Sophia Diamantis. In today’s episode, we interview three high school students from Afghanistan, the Dominican Republic, and Ecuador, as well as a bilingual school leader. My colleague Paquita Jarman-Smith and I were about to begin working with their teachers. But first, we had the opportunity to hear directly from students. The three students shared about their schooling experiences in the US and their future goals. We asked all of them the same questions. To ensure the privacy of the students, we have not included any names or the name of their high school. We started by asking them when they entered school in the US and what their future goals were.
STUDENT FROM AFGHANISTAN: So I entered school in 2020…I was a Freshman. I’m so interested in math and I want to be an engineer, and I’m really trying hard to get into Yale University. That is my biggest dream. Like they were saying, no one can go easily to that university. I really want to go there.
STUDENT FROM ECUADOR: When I was in grade 10. I want to go to university.
STUDENT FROM THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: When I was in 4th grade. I want to apply for UCONN university because I want to be a lawyer or a psychologist.
SOPHIA: The goals these students described for their higher education don’t reflect typical data about postsecondary advancement and multilingual learners. According to EdSight, the four-year graduation rate in Connecticut is around 85%. But for students classified as English Learners it is around 65%. Why do multilingual students have lower graduation rates? The answer, we are often told, is a function of multilingual learners’ inability to engage in rigorous content because they lack sufficient mastery of English. Educational linguists and others remind us there are considerations beyond English proficiency that lead to what many term as underperformance. It may not be that students classified as English Learners lack sufficient mastery of English. Scholars call attention to the limited understanding and engagement of students’ multilingualism, which then limits their opportunities for learning. When we had the chance to sit down with school leaders, we asked what they were doing to support multilingual students. We asked how they were working to recognize the students’ goals and linguistic resources to ensure equitable access and opportunity.
DR. BONET: I’m extremely proud of the team that we have working with them, our teachers. Our kids are advocating for themselves now. We have created procedures for them to get appointments with counselors effectively. We have reshaped the way that we assigned classes. We have used the results of your LAS Links. That was something that was not being done before. The ESL classes were leveled by grade and not necessarily by performance. So, we transformed that in the process of me being here. So we started using the LAS Links results as a link to the ESL class that you need, to determine the support that you are receiving, and the classes that you need. Even challenging kids to exit. Now we we’re having, yes, you have the level, now let’s have a conversation, you’re going to be in LTSS. And start using the terms with teachers as well. We have students that are ELs and we have students that are LTSS, that even though they have the level 4 or level 5, they are still struggling with the language like I do, and I’m a professional. And I’m going to probably keep struggling with the language for a bit. But our kids are served in a way now that I believe is on the way of becoming a comprehensive approach to their needs.
SOPHIA: LAS Links is the name of the English Language Proficiency Test used in Connecticut to assess students’ reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills. Students identified as English Learners take the test each year. Once they’ve achieved an overall score of 4 or 5 as well as a 4 or 5 on the reading and writing subtests, they are no longer classified as an English Learner.
And once they exit, students are monitored for at least 2 years. In discussing their language-related challenges at school, the students restated a deep commitment to their education and about how they are learning to advocate for themselves.
STUDENT FROM ECUADOR: My biggest challenge at school is English. Yeah, because I’m learning English. My first language is Spanish. You know, but I’m learning good in English. Yeah, I can talk maybe with some people. I like that.
SOPHIA: Is there a specific challenge in class? Like participating or taking notes or reading or writing…
STUDENT FROM ECUADOR: Listening. Yeah because sometimes I don’t understand what they are talking about.
SOPHIA: And what do you do when you don’t understand the teacher?
STUDENT FROM ECUADOR: I ask again. Mister, can you explain it slow. Yeah, they explain. It’s fine. No problem asking me if they don’t understand.
SOPHIA: And what is something you wish your teachers knew about you?
STUDENT FROM ECUADOR: Maybe when I don’t understand they…que ellos me entienden que a veces no entiendo muy bien de lo que hablan.
SOPHIA: The student described struggling to understand his teachers. The other students we interviewed spoke about challenges with speaking in class.
SOPHIA: What are your biggest challenges at school?
STUDENT FROM THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Sometimes it is English. Speaking in English in front of people. It’s a big challenge in school.
STUDENT FROM AFGHANISTAN: I want my teacher to know about me, like I can participate. Like I’m scared every time. I really wanna participate, but, like, I can’t. Because when I entered school first, there was like some students that make fun of me cause I had a problem with my English. So I remembered that whenever I’m trying to participate. This stuff like reminding me like I can. I’m scared when I’m participating. So I want my teachers to know about me like I can participate in class, which is so hard for me to participate.
SOPHIA: You can participate.
STUDENT FROM AFGHANISTAN: I’m trying, but like I can.
SOPHIA: What do you think would help you participate in your classes?
STUDENT FROM AFGHANISTAN: Just I had a problem with the students that make fun of me. If they were not here, then, like I can participate. I’m trying. Yeah, but the teachers are good. They’re really trying hard with us. And every time they make me to participate.
SOPHIA: Do you think, is it easier to participate in a small group versus the whole class?
STUDENT FROM AFGHANISTAN: Exactly. Yes, it’s easy for me. But in front of the whole class, I can’t participate.
STUDENT FROM AFGHANISTAN: Yeah, yet.
SOPHIA: Teachers and schools are required by federal law to provide students classified as English Learners appropriate language assistance services to become proficient in English. They must also ensure their equal participation in the standard instructional program. In addition to academic engagement, the school leader we heard from acknowledged social and emotional challenges that students face.
DR. BONET: When we address the whole child it’s important to understand those differences and just make it a celebration of those and make it a…search for those points where we unify.
SOPHIA: The students’ responses demonstrated why this is important, as they talked about the social challenges of attending school in a new country.
SOPHIA: What do you miss most about your last school in your home country?
STUDENT FROM ECUADOR: My friends, yeah.
STUDENT FROM THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: In DR, because I’m from the Dominican Republic, I miss my friends, my teachers. And for middle school here, I miss my best friend, she went back to Ecuador, and yeah.
STUDENT FROM AFGHANISTAN: Ohh I miss my classmates. Like it was so good, it was friendly. And I don’t have friends here. But like in Afghanistan, it was so good. We were going like together everywhere. It was fun. And I miss them a lot.
SOPHIA: We are so grateful to the students and teachers and school leaders for sharing their experiences with us. For showing us how we can begin to push for appropriate and comprehensive approaches with students classified as English Learners. For reminding us that effective communication can be –and often is– multilingual, and for prompting us to wonder about the potential of multilingual learning spaces. We hope you will join us again to continue learning with and from multilingual students, families, and educators. This podcast is brought to you by the State Education Resource Center. We provide resources, professional learning, and a centralized library to educators, families, and community members. To learn more, please visit ctserc.org, that is c-t-s-e-r-c dot o-r-g. Links to resources will be provided in the show notes.
This conversation has been edited. The views of guests are not necessarily the views of the Learning with Multilingual Students podcast or the State Education Resource Center.