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English Language Development program celebrates language differences, teaches language skils

Cristina, 7, wants to be a nurse when she grows up. Her sister Teresa, 8, wants to be a teacher.

Specifically, an English Language Development program teacher.

Teresa’s inspiration stems from the girls’ English Language Development program teachers at Douglas Gardens Elementary School, where they’re both are currently enrolled.

The program aims to help students learn academic English by boosting their skills in reading, writing, listening and speaking the language. It also encourages students to maintain, use and improve their native languages.

Students from kindergarten through age 21 are served by the program, which takes place during regular school time. The program’s purpose is to increase English language learners’ proficiency while also ensuring that their instructional time in core classes is not cut short.

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Earlier this month, a total of 75 students graduated from the program after passing an English Language Proficiency Test, which is required by the state of Oregon to move on from the program.

Teresa, who finished second grade this school year, was one of the students who was recently promoted. She said in a short interview with her parents and siblings on Thursday that she’s not ready to leave the program, as its one of her favorite parts of school.

“It’s helped me learn how to write better,” she said shyly.

Teresa and Cristina’s parents, Juan and Teresa, said their daughters’ language skills have not only been incredibly helpful in numerous situation but that the ELD program has also allowed them to build relationships with the school and their daughters’ teachers.

“We have trust and a connection with their teachers that we wouldn’t have had without ELD,” said Teresa Calvillo. “We’re very happy with the relationship they have with their teachers.”

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Sarah Ferren, who’s also an ELD instructor at Douglas Gardens, said that the relationship between students and the ELD teachers also allows for students who are enrolled, as well as their families, to have a resource at the school that they’re already connected with.

“We work with most of the students for several years, so it allows us to build that relationship with the students and families, and then the families can use us as a resource when they need us – for anything, not just ELD-related things.”

Program background 

There were more than 600 students enrolled in the Springfield School District’s English Language Development program in the 2018-19 school year.

Tracy Conaghan, the district’s ELD program specialist, said in a recent interview that students sometimes take the final ELPA test several times, as the test is rigorous.

“In order to be English proficient on the ELPA test, a student must show an advanced level of English in reading, writing, listening and speaking (the language)," she said.

State officials have said that it typically takes between five and seven years for a student to become English proficient.

 After exiting the ELD program as “English proficient,” the student's academic progress is monitored for the next four years. There are currently 362 “monitored” English learners enrolled at the Springfield district.

After completing the four years of monitoring, students are considered “forever English learners”, and there are currently 226 “forever” English learners enrolled at SPS schools.

This year’s group of EL graduates was made up of students from all grade levels.

Conaghan said the promotion not only recognizes ELD students for their efforts, but allows for families to celebrate their students, too.

“The beauty of having this promotion is that the families are so proud of their kids who are bilingual,” she said. “The students have not only overcome navigating a world in two languages, but they’re also supporting their parents and families in doing the same.”

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