Helping students feel successful in their learning is a goal all educators work toward, but when a student may struggle, through no fault of their own, to understand what is being asked of them, the goal may be harder to obtain.
There are 430 students in the Sedalia School District 200 who are in in that position in some capacity, because the English language is not their primary language.
Two -hundred and seventy of the students are in first through fourth grade.
“For some of our younger students we have to start at the very basic level,” Dr. Nancy Scott, assistant superintendent who oversees the English Language Learners Program, said. “We recognize that this is a frustration for the students and also for their teachers and so we are trying a new program this year to help our students succeed.”
The program focuses primarily on students in grades one through five.
Each day, with the exception of Friday, small groups of students, who are placed in the program based on their ability to read, write, comprehend and speak English, are bused to Sedalia Middle School.
There they receive small group individualized instruction in English from 8:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
While a majority of the students are Hispanic, Sedalia 200 also serves Russian and Ukrainian speakers and students with dialects from Asia, the Philippines and from South America.
“It really doesn’t matter what their native language is,” Scott said. “All of the students are given instruction in learning English as well as their grade level curriculum.
“State law requires that ELL (English Language Learning) instruction must be provided,” Scott added. “One of our primary goals is to do that, but we are also concerned in helping these children become productive citizens in our community.”
The five elementary grade level ELL teachers along with three translators go to the middle school Monday through Thursday to work with the children in groups of eight to 10 students.
All of the students are placed based on their level of proficiency in English as determined by the ACESS test given in January.
On Fridays, the teachers return to their individual schools to work with the kindergarten students and those placed students who may need additional help.
The district looked at its current Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives last year and concentrated on ways to improve those scores.
“While we met the state levels on the AMAOs on the first two criteria, on the third level, state testing, we did not meet,” Scott said. “We are making growth, but it isn’t at the rate that is needed.
“It’s a fairly new program, and we went to see it firsthand in other districts that use this approach, including Independence,” Scott added. “We know we need two years of data to see how the program is working, but we’re taking it on a trial basis this year and we’ll reevaluate at the end of the first semester and at the end of the year to see the gains the students are making academically.”
Scott has high praise for her staff, complimenting them on their willingness to try a new approach.
“I feel we have a group of excellent, highly-qualified staff who all work really well together,” Scott said. “They know what they are doing and they really care about each and every student they work with.”
All of the teachers in the program are ELL certified.
“One of the positive things about the program is that it allows all of the elementary schools to come together and it gives them the opportunity to meet and make new friends with others from their culture,” Stephanie Pate, ELL instructional coach and teacher, said. “The interaction between the children is really neat and it is a key to them developing a sense of community.
“For me, one of the amazing aspects is that when these students leave the program, they will have two languages they will be fluent in,” Pate added.
There are nine different cultures represented in the program this year.
“I think part of the success we have seen to date is that the students feel safe in this new environment, and the teachers have done a great job of making the students feel at home in the classroom,” Scott added. “The teachers are teaching the regular curriculum while developing the student’s English language skills.
“The teachers are going about it in a lot of creative ways,” Scott said. “They are using a lot of hands-on activities and music and art to help them learn because we know that the more active a child is in their learning the more likely they are to remember.”
The district is in the process of establishing a computer lab at the middle school for the ELL students.
“Since all of the state tests are given on a computer we feel it is important for them to have hands-on use with computers,” Scott said. “We want to give the students every opportunity to succeed, not only in their classwork, but in life. We want them to be more confident in all they do.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484