English Language Learners, or ELLs, are students whose first language is not English but who are in the process of learning English. With over 240 bilingual staff members, Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS), has a multilingual department that is dedicated to these ELL students. With 27 percent of MPS students having a language other than English as their native language, and nearly 100 different languages spoken at MPS, the need for this department is obviously great, in order to quickly educate these students in English as early as possible so they may succeed in the rest of their educational journey.
The mission statement of the MPS Multilingual Department is: “The Multilingual Department empowers educators and leaders to develop language-rich learning environments that raise the achievement of English Learners through: consistent, high quality programming; research-based instructional strategies; share accountability for student learning; and affirmation and development of student, family and community assets.”
The multilingual department of MPS has a comprehensive language development program for ELLs that supports the development of not only reading and writing English, but also the speaking of and listening to English. According to their website, the MPS ELL program’s goal is “to foster students’ academic learning and to provide opportunities to English language development.” The Bilingual Student Education Policy goal is “to develop academic proficiency in English, ensure achievement of grade level standards, and develop and maintain students’ first language as a resource for learning and social success,” and it seems as though MPS is meeting this goal.
The reason that learning English in MPS schools early and quickly is necessary is that students who do not may end up not even graduating. According to the MPS Multilingual Department Strategic Plan, 42 percent of ELLs do not complete high school in four years. More specifically, the Latino ELLs dropout rate is even higher, at 67 percent.
With so many bilingual educators helping these students learn English, MPS seems more than equipped to lower these numbers of non-graduating students. However, AmeriCorps members are also involved in helping ELL students succeed in the classroom. Based on their January 2012 report, AmeriCorps members predict that 75 percent of the students participating the ELL programs will complete the programs, and 70 percent of these students will move up at least one level on the Test of Emerging Academic English (TEAE). The programs that AmeriCorps members lead are 12 weeks longs, for a minimum of 60 minutes a week during the school year.
There are five levels of determined proficiency in the ELL program: Pre-entering/entering, emerging, developing, expanding, bridging.
Besides ELL programs (which include English as a Second Language), MPS also has Dual Language programs. This is where native English speaking students are mixed with non-native English speaking students. This type of program works for the success of all students achieving bilingualism.
With much apparent success but a long way to go, it will be interesting to see how bilingual MPS students fare in the coming years.