ELL Job Cuts Cause Concern

Grace Elletson, Staff Writer

High school can be a somewhat terrifying endeavor for the average teenager. The awkward social situations, the academic pressure mixed with psychological pressure creates an ecosystem that’s very difficult for students. Now imagine a high school where no one speaks your own language, a majority of the other students are from a different culture, and you’re trying to “fit in” just like everybody else into an unfamiliar society. This is the journey every English language learner (ELL) has to make as they take their first steps into Barnstable High School. And according to ELL students and staff, it’s about to get a lot harder.

The three ELL teaching assistant positions, currenty filled by Kay Cooper, Cris Smith and Marianne Craddock, are being cut next year due to Massachusetts Department of Education state regulations. The state declared that because these ELL teaching assistants don’t have a Masters degree in ELL education, the work they do with students doesn’t count as actual time taught in a classroom by a credentialed teacher. Because these hours aren’t recognized by the State Education Department, the ELL program at BHS will lose funding if changes aren’t implemented by the fall, Principal Patrick Clark explained.

“The goal for all [ELL] students is to have the right number of hours to propel them towards fluency as fast as possible,” Clark said.

Clark also said that the Barnstable school district will be hiring an ELL director next year to oversee all ELL programs within the district. BHS will also hire two more positions for its ELL department.

As of right now, there are three full-time ELL teachers at BHS, Sophia Rose, ELL teacher, explained, but to fill the gap the teaching assistants will leave behind, another part-time position will be added.

Rose said that the assistants are invaluable, “They have a role no one can replace.”

She explained that they serve as a safe haven for ELL students– but not just academically. Assistants are the ones the students go to for advice when they need help. “There’s no bilingual counselor and no other ELL teacher is fluent,” Rose said, she explained how although BHS doesn’t use bilingual education strategies to teach ELL students, the students feel more comfortable being able to communicate with an adult in their own language. Out of the three aids, Cooper is fluent in Spanish and Smith is fluent in Portuguese.

Matheus Correa, junior, from Brazil, is disappointed because he’s known the assistants for so many years. He explained how Cooper would help him in his science classes when he didn’t understand the material. He said that Cooper gave him the confidence to ask questions in class.

“Intelligent people get Fs,” Correa said, referring to the ELL students who take regular math and science courses without being comfortable with the English language. He said that this will continue to get worse when the assistants leave because the students will lose the help they need. He worries that ELL students simply won’t come to school.

Another requirement of the state is that every “incumbent core academic teachers of ELLs” needs to earn a Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) Teacher Endorsement through Rethinking Equity and Teaching for English Language Learners (RETELL) training. This is geared towards helping teachers better educate their ELL students who are introduced to their classrooms. Clark explained, “We have the responsibility to educate all students with the right support from the State.”

However, some ELL students don’t think that the training is helping their teachers better understand how they need to learn. Correa said that teachers can sometimes be impatient if they ask a questions more than once because they’re having trouble with the language. “Teachers don’t always have time to help, but the assistants always do,” Correa said.

Kristie Eddy, a junior, from Puerto Rico, said that the assistants not only helped her with her schooling, but with her athletic life as well. Eddy explained that the assistants would help her stay on top of forms that were due for sports and sometimes they would even give her rides to games.

“No one wants them to go away,” Maeve Hitzenbuhler, BHS ELL curriculum coordinator said about the assistants having to leave. Hitzenbuhler worries that students will fall behind without the one-on-one help they’re used to . For next year, she’s working on creating an after school help session with fellow ELL teacher Casimir Malec so students don’t fall behind.

Hitzenbuhler said, “We want students to have support, but we have a State mandate now. What do we do now to not lose kids?”