LEBANON — Right now, young students have just one enrollment option if they want to take advantage of the Lebanon school district's English Language Learner program: Green Acres Elementary School.
That means youngsters who might benefit from the daily small group sessions, but who don't live near Green Acres, have to choose to enroll there instead of staying at their neighborhood school. Their other choice is to decline ELL services and stay where they are.
That's something the Lebanon Community School District would like to change, if there's room in the 2018-19 budget.
Dawn Baker, the district's director of federal programs, brought a proposal to extend ELL services throughout the district to the Feb. 8 meeting of the Lebanon School Board. She's suggesting the district add two full-time bilingual instructional assistants to next year's budget, at an estimated total of $80,000.
Budget committee meetings start in April and the board plans adoption in June.
ELL is a program for students who need help learning to communicate in English. Services are mandated by federal law through Title III, to help make sure children attain proficiency in English and get the boost they need to perform as well as their English-speaking counterparts when it comes time for state tests.
Any student who registers in Lebanon and indicates a language other than English is spoken at home is tested to see whether ELL services might be helpful, Baker said. Those services are offered depending on the student's fluency score.
The vast majority of the students in the Lebanon district for whom English is not the first language come from Spanish-speaking families. However, according to Baker's report, the district also counts Russian, Laotian, Punjabi and American Sign Language among first languages spoken by students this year.
Most of the students who qualify for ELL services are in younger grades, because after four or five years in the district, they are able to exit the program and move to monitored status, Baker said. But a handful do receive services in middle and high school.
Lebanon has 159 students total counted as ELL, including those in upper grades and those who are on monitor status. Services are being provided to 36 elementary students this year. Of those, 21 have chosen to attend Green Acres, and the other 15 have declined services.
Extending services to those 15 affects a small population, but it's a large percentage of those eligible, Baker said. That concerns state officials, who want to make sure all students have the opportunity to benefit from the small group instruction an ELL program provides.
"They didn’t say, 'You have to.' It was more, 'This doesn’t really serve the students in your district if this amount of students are declining services,'" she said.
Parents still have the right to decline services, Baker said, but some of them are doing so because they don't want to put their kids on a bus to another school or to give up the chance at local friendships or the programs their home schools might provide. "They (the state) said, 'That’s not really equitable.'"
Adding more bilingual assistants should help the program expand to Pioneer, Cascades, Lacomb and Hamilton Creek, Baker said. That way, eligible families could have more of a choice. "That's what I'm proposing to do, is giving them an option."
Riverview Elementary School, which opened in 2002, was the original magnet program for ELL in Lebanon.
However, most of the native Spanish speakers, who make up the bulk of the program, lived near Green Acres. Principal Jan Zarate, and later, Principal Boon Setser, were both bilingual, so about a decade ago it made sense to move ELL there.
At Green Acres, the ELL program small group lessons, by grade level,are given for half an hour four days a week in a setting separate from the regular classroom.
Jacque Wells is the ELL teacher. She has a bilingual certification, although it's in French, not the Spanish that is the primary language of her ELL students.
But while students benefits greatly from bilingual assistants, ELL is not meant to be a dual immersion program. It's meant to help students struggling with the grammar and writing requirements of English — which means teachers focus on lessons that will help all ELL students, whether their first language is Spanish, Ukranian or Vietnamese.
On a recent Tuesday, for instance, six ELL third-graders at Green Acres simultaneously practiced math vocabulary and shored up their knowledge of the alphabet by learning about symmetry in letters.
"We're going to look at letters and decide, where are the lines of symmetry in these letters?" Wells told the group.
"Let's look at the letter C," she continued, demonstrating a horizontal fold. "If we fold C going this way, is there going to be a line of symmetry?"
Six voices chorused assent. Wells moved on to another letter. "Letter H has two lines, did anyone see that?" she asked. "Let's do letter H together. Vertical and — ? Hor-i-zon-tal."
Wells keeps careful track of the lessons taught in each grade level so she can reinforce those skills as well. After the symmetry lesson, she took out a small plastic clock and led a short refresher course on telling time.
"So right now, it's getting to be 9:30. If recess is in 15 minutes — here's the minute hand — what will it look like?" she asked. She handed the clock to Diana Sanchez, who carefully moved its hands to 9:45.
Once the lesson wrapped up, the six students practiced another form of symmetry by cutting paper hearts along a folded line to make Valentines for family and friends. Wells pointed out messages she'd written on the white board that students could choose to use: "¡Te quiero!", for instance, or, "¡Feliz dia de San Valentin!"
Wells tries to check in with the students at other schools, meeting families and doing consulting. But she believes extending the actual program is important.
In a regular classroom, with 25 or more students, children who struggle with English sometimes get overlooked or aren't confident enough to speak out, she said. Small groups make all the difference.
"It's so that they can have their needs met kind of on a deeper level," Wells said. If the program stays only at Green Acres, "We're leaving out students who aren't opting to come here."