Tag Archive | "english as a second language"

Principal Proposes New Program To Help ESL Students

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By Claire Walla

English as a Second Language (ESL) learners at Pierson Middle/High School are typically not at the top of their class.

According to statistics presented at the most recent school board meeting, Monday, June 2, ESL students typically underperform on Regents Exams, often failing altogether.

Of nine ESL students who took the Regents Exam in Global History last June, only two received a score of 60 or above, the highest grade being 66. Of the nine students who took the Regents Exam in Algebra only three scored 60 or above. The numbers fluctuate over the years, but — on the whole — they remain low.

“This is our riskiest population,” said Dr. John Gratto, the Sag Harbor School District’s superintendent.

But according to Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols, this is not really a surprise.

In some cases, he explained, ESL students come from countries where the education systems are on par with the United States. However, particularly in recent years, Nichols said many ESL students come to Pierson well behind their peers, academically.

“What we have now are a lot of students with interrupted formal education,” he continued. “Not only is there a language deficit, there are preparation issues.”

For this reason — and in light of dwindling test scores — he has proposed hiring a new ESL teacher and adopting a new model of education geared toward helping the ESL population achieve success.

According to the district’s director of pupil personnel services, Dr. Lisa Scheffer, the ESL population district-wide has hovered between 50 and 60 in the last three years. About one third of the entire population is at Pierson, she added.

The plan is to create a class based on an education model called Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP). The model focuses on eight inter-related components: lesson preparation, building background, comprehensible input, strategies, interaction, practice/application, lesson delivery and review/assessment.

Nichols said the idea at Pierson, starting in the fall, would be to hire one new bilingual teacher who either has ESL certification or is pursuing certification. While most candidates would likely have expertise in one content area, Nichols said that instructor would have to be able to teach the five content areas covered by Regents Exams: Living Environment, Algebra, Global History, U.S. History and English. There would also be an academic support period.

The newly hired teacher would work with Fausto Hinojosa, a teaching assistant who currently works with the ESL population at Pierson.

“It all situations, a key piece [to academic success] is to establish a strong connection between home and school,” Nichols said. “This is more difficult in core content classes, where teachers have [roughly] 100 students… it’s difficult to establish the kind of relationship required for these students to be successful.”

The SIOP model would allow instructors to work with ESL students more closely, giving them the ability to better follow through with homework and assignments, more clearly explain instruction, translate information (if need be), and establish stronger relationships between the school and the families of ESL students.

Nichols said he and Hinojosa have already identified 36 ESL students at the high school who could benefit from the SIOP model, however not all 36 need help in each of the five core content areas. The students would take part in a SIOP class on an at-need basis.

In total, Nichols added that he imagines each class would be anywhere from eight to 17 students. He added that ESL students at the high school range in age from 15 to 21, and it’s likely SIOP classes would see a range of ages for each subject.

“Is this a perfect solution?” Nichols asked rhetorically. “No. But, for what we’re faced with, is it a viable solution? Yes.”

“We have to do something,” School Board President Mary Anne Miller agreed. “We’ve tried a lot of different initiatives, but we’re not getting these students to where we want them to be.”

Nichols added that the new position would be paid for with reserves that have been set aside for special education.

“The goal is not just to get them to graduate,” Nichols continued. “But to get [ESL students] to be number two or three in their class. We have to continue to reach for that.”

Raising the Bar for ESL Students at Pierson

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Above: Pierson Senior Ronald Aucapina and his award.

By Claire Walla


Last month, Pierson High School senior Ronald Aucapina was issued an award for stellar academic achievement.

“Across the board, Ronald was recognized by the faculty as being a successful student,” said Pierson High School Vice Principal Gary Kalish, who added that Aucapina currently maintains a grade point average of 93 percent.

Aucapina, who works part-time at Schiavoni’s Market and has been described as “studious, quiet and calm,” is well deserving of praise, Kalish continued. But, his achievements are particularly worth noting for one important reason: Aucapina is a former ESL (English as a Second Language) student.

In fact, he’s the only former ESL student graduating from Pierson with honors this year.

Aucapina received his award at a special meeting last month, which was conducted in Spanish for parents of ESL students, or former ESL students like Aucapina. This was the second Spanish-language meeting held this year.

According to Pierson ESL Teaching Assistant Fausto Hinojosa, Aucapina’s recognition marks a great achievement.

Hinojosa noted the glaring absence of former ESL students who have managed to make the Pierson honor roll in the past five years. While in 2011 two students earned honors status, in 2008 and 2009 only one former ESL student made honor roll. And in 2010 that number was zero.

Since returning to the Sag Harbor School district last January after spending four years on the West Coast, Hinojosa has worked with the ESL population (including non-ESL students from Spanish-speaking homes) to try to improve these statistics.

“It’s my tremendous desire to see Spanish kids reach those levels,” he said.

On a daily basis, Hinojosa floats between classrooms during the school’s academic support period to check-in with students whom he knows may need extra help. He may stop off in a classroom to talk to a teacher about a particular student’s performance, or check in with the school guidance counselor along the way, but he ultimately ends up in the library. There, he sits down with students to make sure they’re doing their homework and — most importantly — that they understand their assignments.

Sometimes he helps students who are simply struggling academically. However, Hinojosa said he often faces a much bigger problem.

“There’s a philosophical issue here,” he began. “For many reasons — reasons I don’t understand — when many of these kids reach that level [of academic achievement], they feel uncomfortable and they don’t want to be there.”

Hinojosa, who also taught in Newport Beach, Calif., said this problem is not restricted to Pierson, though it’s certainly felt in the district.

“We’re working so hard to get these kids to produce,” he added. “It’s an unbelievable struggle.”

As for Ronald Aucapina, Hinojosa said the honor roll student rose through the academic ranks in part because of his desire to do well, but also because he had a great deal of family support. This is where the Spanish-language meetings come into play.

Making sure parents are involved in their children’s academic lives is a “crucial” part of success, Hinojosa said. And for roughly 50 ESL families at Pierson Middle/High School, engaging directly in the school community would not be possible without the ability to overcome the language barrier.

To date, Hinojosa has been able to organize three meetings in Spanish at Pierson: one in the 2010-11 school year and two in this academic year. The meetings are modeled after standards adopted in California, where Spanish-language meetings are mandatory for any public school with a student body with over 25 percent Spanish speakers or students from a household where Spanish is the primary language. (Spanish-language meetings are not mandated in the state of New York.)

Drawing a regular crowd of about 20 parents, Hinojosa said the meetings have been very successful so far, and he hopes the trend continues. Hopefully, he added, there will be more students like Ronald Aucapina in the future.

In an interview last month, Aucapina said he will attend the University of Rhode Island in the fall, where he’ll study biology. He hopes to eventually study medicine and become a physician.