Students excelling in English Learners program

Students excelling in English Learners program
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Alan Ruelas Soto, Cathlena Chazen-Carreazo and Karen Lucas Mazariegos all moved to Faribault in the last three years. When they arrived, they spoke Spanish and all their previous education had come in that language.

Fast forward three years and all three students are beginning the 2018-19 school year in Faribault Public Schools taking full schedules of mainstream courses in English without any support from the district’s English Learners program. That program helped them advance through its five levels of proficiency (1-newcomer to 5-proficient) in less than three years and pass the ACCESS test created by The World-class Instructional Design and Assessment organization (which tests listening, speaking, reading and writing skills) earlier this year. All three students are now performing at the level of native-born English speakers.

“On average, it takes 5-7 years for EL students to go through the five levels,” said Faribault Public Schools EL Coordinator Sam Ouk, who saw a record 71 students advance through the program last year. “These kids had previous schooling and that helps. Add their strong work ethic and they were able to carry over their academic skill into another language.”

Alan Ruelas Soto is starting his sophomore year at Faribault High School. He advanced from the Newcomer Center to a 2.9 proficiency score two years ago, and then reached English proficiency last year. He took his final EL class, English 9, with Laura Gehlhar last spring. Gehlhar said Alan’s natural curiosity helped him excel in the EL program.

“It helped that he’s willing to talk to other people that speak different languages than he does. He’s willing to try out words in English and even with his Somali classmates. He’s not afraid to make mistakes,” Gehlhar said. “It’s impressive that he learned a language and became fluent in such a short amount of time.”

Cathlena Chazen-Carreazo was at the top of her class in Columbia before her family moved to Faribault in 2016. When she registered she didn’t know enough English to finish the first page of the language placement test, but after only a semester she was able to transfer out of the Newcomer Center. Chazen-Carreazo is a freshman at Faribault High School.

“She’s very clever and capable in her first language, so she was able to transfer a lot of those skills into learning another language pretty quickly,” FMS World Cultures teacher Britta Peterson said. “She’s very curious and spunky and determined. She cares a lot about doing her best.”

Karen Lucas Mazariegos, now a fifth-grader at Roosevelt Elementary, could only communicate through her older brother interpreting for her when her family came to Faribault in 2015. Her love of drawing helped her overcome language barriers and form bonds with her classmates.

“Other students would sometimes ask her to draw pictures for them. Karen loved this.  It helped to begin to foster a real sense of community between the Spanish speakers and the Somali speakers,” said EL teacher Anjanette Arnold. “She had a positive attitude and that is what made her successful both in and outside of school.  Many of our students have challenges that I hear about… that are almost beyond my scope of comprehension.  With so many of them, though, it is their attitude that gets them through and helps them shine like a beacon in a foggy night.”

Faribault Public Schools supports its more than 800 EL students with 22 licensed EL staff members, as well as paraprofessionals and Somali- and Spanish-speaking cultural liaisons at each of its buildings. Each school also has a Newcomers Center, which focuses on providing families with resources and assisting with cultural integration.

“We’re teaching students not just about the culture of Faribault, but also helping them learn about their native culture and finding ways those cultures can integrate together,” Ouk said. “Kids and parents having access to cultural liaisons helps our schools develop positive relationships with the families of our students that probably need the most support due to the cultural and language differences.”

Ouk said one of the reasons Faribault’s EL program has been so successful is because it offers varying levels of support. Newcomers are given more comprehensive support, while Level 3 and 4 students are able to review material outside of class with EL teachers using the pre-teach and re-teach methods, and Level 4 and 5 students have EL teachers in their classrooms working with English-speaking teachers.

At the high school level, students with no English skills or previous education experience can enter into a six-year graduation plan that allows them to cover three academic years in one school year.

“I think the special thing about our program that’s different from other districts is we have an instructional model that’s designed to meet students at different language levels,” Ouk said. “Not many districts are able to do that.”


Faribault English Learners program mission statement

The Faribault Public Schools' programs for English learners strives to enable students of limited English proficiency to develop their intellectual, cultural, and self-concept skills necessary for success at Faribault Public Schools and for their future. The students will accomplish this development in an atmosphere of understanding, cooperation, and support.

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