Tag Archive | "esl"

Principal Proposes New Program To Help ESL Students

Tags: , , , , , , , ,


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

Tags: , , , , , , , ,


DSCF7423 adjusted

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.

Teaching Budgets Projected to Remain Relatively Flat

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


By Claire Walla

According to both Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols and Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone, the Sag Harbor School District’s anticipated instructional costs will remain relatively flat going into the 2012-2013 school year.

At a budget presentation on Monday, January 23, Nichols and Malone reported projected budgets that will see district totals increase roughly 6.99 percent over this year’s operating budget.

Overall, teaching costs — which include teachers’ salaries, equipment costs, contractual fees and textbook prices — are projected to increase $731,784 next year, bringing the 2012-2013 total to roughly $11,197,784 million, versus this year’s operating budget of $10,465,851.

The district’s business manager Janet Verneuille explained that the only changes in staffing will include the additions of a new sixth-grade teacher and a new English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching assistant, who actually began working in the district last year but wasn’t hired until after last year’s budget was adopted, and therefore hasn’t been factored into the budget.

Sag Harbor School Superintendent Dr. John Gratto added that the district has seen a decrease of four special education teachers and one nurse, who had been at Stella Maris Regional School until the school closed last spring.

Principal Nichols asserted that there are “not that many significant changes to the budget.”

While equipment costs for all departments are looking at a 2-percent increase (or $4,757) for next year, a decrease in special education by $1,053 and a $12,531 drop in co-curricular activities more than make up for it.

Part of the high school’s extra costs for next year are expected to go to the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which will add another $14,500 to the annual budget. The annual fees for the program are $11,000, the program’s software management program (ManageBac) is $1,000 and an additional $2,500 has been allotted for field trips. Nichols explained that part of the program requirements for foreign language classes include field trips to areas where those languages are spoken, so students will most likely attend trips to parts of New York City.

Nichols went onto explain that the school will also spend $30,000 on professional development to allow more teachers to attend IB training workshops. Although, he added that this expense is part the school’s budget each year regardless of whether or not it is used specifically for IB training.

Nichols noted the fact that Pierson High School has not yet garnered approval from the IB board and is not yet officially an IB school; however, he said he expects to know whether or not the IB diploma program will be offered next fall as soon as this spring.

“We have to submit some paperwork to IB this week, then we’ll have a site visit within the next two months,” he explained.

Following in the wake of Nichols’ presentation, Malone said IB is one of the focuses of next year’s elementary school budget as well. Though the school is not on-track to implement the IB Primary Years’ program, Malone said he plans for teachers to attend IB training to learn more about the program and bring that information back to the community. This way, if IB principles are instilled in the elementary school curriculum, he said students will be better prepared for the diploma program once they get to Pierson.

Malone is currently budgeting $44,292 for professional development (roughly a 17 percent increase over this year), of which he said about $10,000 will be dedicated to IB training.

Dr. Gratto confirmed that the district does not intend to implement the IB primary years’ program. Rather, IB training at the elementary school will help primary teachers better train students for the high school curriculum.

“We believe there’s a lot of benefit to attending these workshops,” Malone added.

He also explained that he’s exploring options for a new math series at the elementary school, which takes advantage of new technologies. And although Malone hasn’t settled on a program, he’s set aside roughly $30,000 in next year’s budget for this purpose.

Finally, Verneuille reported that employee benefits are expected to see an 8-percent increase next year, bringing this year’s total benefit costs from $6.8 million to $7.3 million next year.

While Verneuille said she’s still waiting to see the projected rates for teachers’ retirement costs, she said the rates for health and dental insurance are projected to jump by about 10 percent and the rates for employee retirement costs are expected to jump 12.5 percent—“we got whammed on that!” she exclaimed.

A comprehensive budget breakdown is scheduled to be presented before the Board of Education at its next meeting, February 6.

Proposal to Add Counselor

Tags: , , , , ,


By Claire Walla


With the two-percent tax levy cap looming on the horizon, school districts across he state will be struggling to find ways of cutting costs, without sacrificing services. At a Sag Harbor School Board meeting last Monday, August 14, Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols offered a plan he said would not only be cost-effective, it would increase the services the district provides.

Last year, the high school spent about $74,000 for transitional services for about 14 special needs students. But, according to District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto, he and Nichols have begun talking about using that money instead to fund a new position at the school.

“From my perspective, spending $74,000 for transitional services for 14 or 15 students a year is pretty expensive,” Nichols commented at the meeting. Transitional services are mandated by the state for some special needs students’ Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). Once a student with such an IEP turns 15, the school is required to bring someone in to help that student get through the course work he or she needs to graduate, in addition to helping that student explore various options available to him or her post-graduation.

“Our thought is that we could not only do that, but we could bring [in a counselor with] other skills that would help the growing needs that we have,” Nichols explained.

The way he and Dr. Gratto have discussed it, that $74,000 can be channeled into a full-time position, bringing in a counselor who will be on the campus five days a week, instead of a part-time person who might only be at the school for two. The idea is in its preliminary stage, but Nichols said at this point he sees this as a $50-55,000 salary, which, plus benefits, would roughly equate to $74,000.

The person in this new position would serve two main needs of the school: helping with transitional services, and doing more outreach to parents and students who are part of the school’s English as a Second Language (ESL) community. This aspect is not required by the state. But Nichols said it’s crucial for the district — which currently has about 60 ESL students, 25 of them in the high school — to address the growing needs of the ESL community.

“Obviously the person we hire would have to be bilingual,” Nichols said. He also urged the school to hold-off on hiring someone until the right candidate — with a background in counseling and/or social work, plus Spanish language skills — is found.

The third aspect of this new position, Nichols continued, would involve hands-on experience for Pierson students who could serve as mentors for ESL or special needs students. To this, he added, “I think it would be preferable to hire this person in the spring, which would allow him or her to cultivate relationships with the people who would want to serve as mentors [beginning next fall, 2012].”

Learning the Language: Pierson Breaks Ground with New ESL Program

Tags: , ,


web ESL Class

By Marissa Maier

Jennifer Warner, a young teacher at the Sag Harbor Elementary School, is sitting in a chair flanked by seven pint-sized students. Reading from a chapter book, Warner reads the phrase “eat my socks” and turns to the group to say, “Does everyone know what that means?” The meaning behind this colloquialism would be clear to any English speaking youngster. This group of students, though, ranging from fourth to fifth graders, are composed of second language learners, and Warner often must check-in to make sure her pupils grasp the intent of these expressions.

Above: Elementary school ESL teacher Jennifer Warner incorporates the SMART board into her second language lesson plan.

Over the past couple years, the number of ESL students in the school district has been steadily rising, said ESL instructor Donna Milazzo. Noting this trend, a group of second language teachers joined together and created a curriculum for the language program, which many believe is the first of its kind on the South Fork.

Since 2007, the number of ESL students in the district has grown from around 50 to 61 pupils. Many of these children were born in the United States, though they grew up with non-English speaking parents and weren’t formally introduced to the language until they entered the classroom. A majority of Sag Harbor’s ESL students hail from Mexico, Ecuador, Peru and Columbia, while others immigrated from as far away as Thailand, Russia and Lithuania. A group of ESL teachers presented their work at a Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting in early January, where they also highlighted a wealth of demographic information on ESL students in the district.

The New York State department of education sets standards, or guidelines, for ESL instruction, but the department doesn’t mandate a specific curriculum. When writing the educational plan for the district, the Sag Harbor teachers said they were diving into some uncharted academic waters. A few schools in other states had created their own curriculum, but in Sag Harbor the teachers knew they would need to start from scratch. As Milazzo explains it, the Sag Harbor team set out in October to craft a pedagogy behind ESL instruction and wrapped up their work by December.

“The important part [of the curriculum] is the education continuum and continuing where they are when they move to another school building or grade level. The state has learning guidelines but ours are more specific. We are addressing the needs of the second language learner,” noted Milazzo.

After teaching non-native speakers for several years, many Pierson educators had already honed methods for language instruction. Though the curriculum breaks down the theories of language instruction into two concepts of basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS) and cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP), Warner said educators constantly adjust the program based on the skills, interests and emotional state of the student. And teachers like Warner and Milazzo never tire of finding ways to imbue linguistic concepts.

Last week, Warner could be found in her elementary school classroom separating her seven students into three groups. One set of children stayed by the Smart board, where they learned about westward expansion through a Power Point, a video and an online game. The other pairs of students read books. One group created a treasure map while the other drew a picture and recapitulated the story. Warner said she often pairs the students together so that they will teach one another. Milazzo added that beginning students are placed with intermediate ones, and intermediate pupils are matched with advanced ones.

The teachers also noted that they encourage using the native language in the classroom. Milazzo said research shows when a student’s skills in their native language is elevated, the concepts of English will follow. Native culture is continually promoted in the ESL program because linking experience and interests with language development helps students retain information. Warner explained one student, who was originally reluctant to speak in class, liked soccer and she then found a myriad of books on the subject and crafted a lesson plan around this interest to help engage him.

A strong partnership between the ESL instructor and the mainstream teacher is needed for an effective program, added Warner and Milazzo. Teachers in core subjects frequently meet with the ESL educators to show upcoming lesson plans, which is then incorporated in the language instruction to introduce students to the material in a more hands-on and intimate setting.

As many ESL students are grappling with issues of assimilation, the ESL teachers are part educator and caretaker, and must form a strong alliance with the guidance counselors. Milazzo explained many students leave behind a primary caretaker in their native country, while others feel like an outsider in their new school community. She believes these children are “betwixt and between” their native and secondary culture. The children often go through a period when they refuse to speak their primary language, even at home, hoping to form an identity in their new environs.

“They need the social piece, like after school [programs] or chorus. I have seen children who were so quiet when they first get here and then when they become involved they are a whole new person,” added Milazzo.

The families noted Milazzo and Warner must also become involved in their children’s education, though many of the parents are struggling to grasp English as well.

In the classroom, the teachers attempt to make students as comfortable as possible and this was evident in Warner’s class. The children often shouted out answers and laughed. No one acted out and all the students appeared to work well with one another.

Of the ESL classroom, Milazzo said, “They come in here and their shoulders relax. We want to make them feel safe so they are willing to take risks. There is a lot of fear associated with this process. Unless it subsides the language skills aren’t going to stick.”