The arrival of students speaking languages other than English can be challenging, but also provides powerful learning opportunities for all. Did you know that English language learners (ELLs) are the fastest growing population in Iowa and U.S. schools? According to the Iowa Department of Education, Area Education Agency 267 (AEA 267) had 3,288 English language learners served by 37 school districts, equating to roughly 5.1% of the total student enrollment. Consistent with national trends, the ELL population has significantly increased over the past several years locally. The ELL population has grown by 83.4% over the last ten years in schools served by AEA 267.
With the growing number of English language learners, districts are recognizing many successes. Some districts are moving to a “co-teaching” model, where the ELL teacher works collaboratively with the mainstream teacher, teaching together in the same classroom. Teachers are also seeing success as they use better student performance information to guide and customize their teaching. To accomplish this, many school districts secure training for all teachers—primarily provided by Iowa’s Area Education Agencies— and are recognizing that change, though sometimes hard, is benefiting all students.
At AEA 267, we observe many successes within schools and communities related to English language learners. Teachers are moving away from traditional teaching practices and are expanding their teaching knowledge and strategies. Districts and teachers are excited about learning more, frequently attending professional development and implementing these learnings into their classrooms. In some communities, ELLs have positively impacted school enrollment (districts would otherwise experience declining enrollment; be forced to lay off teachers and close buildings). We also observe a positive economic impact by businesses being opened and the patronage at local stores.
With the increasing number of ELLs, we also recognize challenges that districts are encountering. In larger districts, ensuring enough time to serve the needs of all students and for teacher collaboration is a challenge along with scheduling, locating resources and interpreters. Another difficulty is securing time and resources to educate all teachers on best practice and customizing instruction to meet the needs of students at multiple English proficiency levels.
Challenges are not limited to districts with large numbers of ELLs. Many districts are getting their first ELLs. This requires administrators and teachers to learn the processes and procedures for identification and as well as how to access available services very quickly. Finding and retaining an endorsed teacher to work part-time is a daunting task.
Maintaining the capacity to serve ELLs often requires frequent adjustments to accommodate changing needs as families leave and enroll in the district. Locating first language resources and interpreters is difficult in school districts with a low population of ELL students, as is scheduling services across buildings, funding for resources/staff and teacher training.
At AEA 267, our goal is to assist districts in best serving English language learners. We accomplish this through a variety of activities. AEA 267 offers classes and workshops for educators and community members as well as consultation services, which include support in ELL programming, legal requirements, and research-based instructional strategies. Other services include problem solving language-related issues, encouraging family involvement, and working with school administrators. These services are delivered by two full-time ELL consultants who serve the entire 18-county service area of AEA 267. Beyond consultant support, teacher resource/materials are available for checkout through the AEA 267 media resources.
To assist school districts in serving English language learners, AEA 267s’ ELL consultants offer a wealth of information and experience. As required by law, English language learners need to fully develop their English and academic language proficiencies. AEA 267 is here to work alongside local educators in their efforts to achieve those educational goals.
Lisa Wymore is a Consultant for English Language Learners with AEA 267 and can be reached at 641-753-3564. Area Education Agency 267 serves over 66,000 students. In addition, over 5,000 educators rely on AEA 267 for services in special education, school technology, media and instructional/curriculum support. The agency’s service area reaches 18 counties and nearly 9,000 square miles.