For those of you who may not be familiar with ELL, it stands for English Language Learners and it is a program designed to help students, who’s native tongue isn’t English, to reach proficiency so that they can perform well in the main classroom.
It is a great program if you are just coming to the country and have no idea of what’s going on in the class. ELL teachers are highly experienced in diverse techniques to help these students learn English and be able to partake in the school’s life.
My problem with this program is that the school district where my children begun elementary school did not test my children before placing them in it. Once in ELL, they cannot remove your child from it until he/she tests out. Now my children may live in a bilingual (ahem, multilingual home); however, their preferred language is English. They speak it fluently and, unlike their parents, they have no foreign accent whatsoever when they communicate.
They were placed in the program simply because when I enrolled them, I answer “yes” to the question: are there other languages spoken at home?
To me that was short from racial profiling. Did the district take a minute to speak to my children before giving them ELL status? No. Was I concerned how this stigma may follow them from one school to the next? Absolutely.
However, my children remained in the program because all the testing is done on a computer and is timed. Have you ever tried testing a child that is proficient in a language with a timer? Well, they put a lot of pressure on themselves and they make many unnecessary mistakes just because they are nervous. Never mind their great academic progress or their ease and fluency when speaking English in the classroom and social settings. Since they would not get the required scores on the computerized test, they would not let them leave the program.
Now, you may think, what’s the big deal? They are getting extra help, aren’t they? Well, perhaps, but it is help that is not related to their ability to understand the language. Sure, my daughter still needs help with fluency and reading comprehension and my son needs to practice his spelling. But this isn’t due to their lack of understanding of the English language. Why then place them in a program designed for those who do not speak English as a first language?
I decided not to fight the battle in Michigan and went with the flow so long my children were not pulled out of the main classroom during periods where they would have enjoyed the activities that the rest of the class was doing. Nevertheless, I resented the label. As a bilingual person who has worked her whole life to be bi-literate and bi-cultural too, I take great pride in my language abilities and place a great deal of energy so that my children can one day call themselves bilingual too (multilingual would be even better). The label offended me and found the ELL intervention useless in my family’s case.
As I feared, the ELL status followed us from Michigan to Pennsylvania where we attend a much more diverse school. The teachers were quite surprised to learn that my children had been placed in the ELL program. They scored so high academically in their first tests, that they could not understand what the previous school was doing with them in ELL. Unluckily, once you are in ELL, by law, you have to remain getting services until the next test comes along.
Today, as I met with their grade teachers for parent-teacher conferences, I learned with great pride that both of my elementary students are doing terrific with the transition into their new school and classroom. That the high academics that our previous school had taught them, have given them an advantage here. They are both ahead of the goals for their grade level.
One of ELL teachers joined in during one of my meetings and assured me that she makes the intervention something fun and tries to help my children with the things that are actually challenging for them in the main classroom. She put my mind at ease -at least they are not wasting anybody’s time-. She also made me feel that I wasn’t crazy or to proud by thinking my kids did not belong there. I guess all I wanted to hear from the beginning was that the label was not something that applied to my family but that every child can find something beneficial out of every intervention at school.