|Hannah Claugus (Left), pictured here (L to R) with two of her English Language Learners, Carmen and Ysabel, and Katie Bisson, the ELL Program Family Liason|
In Anchorage we have some of the most diverse public schools in the nation. Families from places like Honduras, Somalia, India, Vietnam, and Samoa are proud to call Anchorage their home. For my Social Work practicum this year I’ve been placed at the English Language Learners (ELL) Program for the Anchorage School District (ASD). The goal of the ELL program is to provide ELL students and their families access to a wide range of educational programs and services and to ensure that they’re able to successfully engage and acquire academic language in a school setting.This year, I’ve been working with the family and refugee liaison at Wendler Middle School on assisting ELL students and their families. I’ve had the privilege of assisting parents from all over the district in our weekly Parent English Class and also supporting students in the Newcomer’s Center. One of the most important things we strive to do is to help ELL parents build the confidence to have a voice in their child’s learning.
Parent English classes are open to any parent in the school district and are one way parents are able to develop their voice . My hours are spent assisting the family liaison who facilitates the parent English classes. We offer a beginning and intermediate class twice a week. Class duration is an hour and a half and in that time we provide information about school-based topics. Many of the families we work with are limited English speakers, and by providing them information about school topics, we help them gain the tools they need to be able to navigate the school system. One particularly helpful lesson we do in every 6-week session of classes is help parents learn how to access and use the ASD’s Zangle system. Zangle is an online parent connection tool where parents can check their student’s grades and connect with school staff. So, naturally, we call the lesson “How to Access and Use Zangle.” We have iPads that parents can use to login to their individual Zangle accounts as we go through the lesson. During this lesson we also assist parents in learning how to draft an email that can be sent to their student’s teacher if they have concerns or questions. This lesson helps parents develop written skills but also encourages parents to get involved in their child’s learning. Due to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, schools are required to provide interpretation and translation services for individuals with limited English proficiency. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires anyone who receives federal funding to provide language assistance services to individuals whose English is limited and prohibits from discriminating based on national origin. In our parent classes we encourage parents to practice this right by requesting interpreting services when needed. Many families and even school staff are unaware that the school district is required to provide these services. Interpretation and translation services are a very important part of family engagement for limited English proficient families. If parents are unaware of services or don’t feel comfortable asking for an interpreter, it inhibits their ability to engage in important school activities like conferences. Because of this, one of our most important goals in our parent class is to get them feeling comfortable with asking for an interpreter.
Another project that we have also worked on in parent class is called Immigrant Stories, a digital storytelling project. Using an online program and curriculum from the University of Minnesota, we’ve helped parents write, record, and develop a video that tells their story. They might tell a story about their journey to the United States, a treasured object, the struggles they have faced since migrating, or another topic of their choice. This project gives parents an opportunity to share a piece of their unique life story. Some parents had only ever written less than a paragraph in English before this, so they were overjoyed when they finished writing their stories. It was inspiring to be a part of that process.
I’ve had a great experience working with the ELL program. It has been eye-opening to learn about the struggles that many newly-arrived immigrants experience. Learning about these struggles has made me more aware of issues involved in refugee resettlement and immigration and has also helped my understanding of how we can assist families who have newly-arrived to the U.S. This experience has taught me that I will forever look through a lens aimed at finding ways to successfully engage ELL students and families.