Here's One Way That We're Meeting English-Language Learners Where They Are

This is the third part in a three-part series on Nevada's successes and struggles to turnaround its school system over the next five years. Read the first part and the second part in the series here.
A key piece of Nevada’s revamped commitment to equity is recognition that different students need different support. In 2013, the Nevada Legislature passed and Governor Sandoval signed into law the Zoom Schools program, which serves high percentages of English-language learners. The program now helps more than 30,000 students annually through extended day learning, summer academies and reading centers. The early results are positive and when paired with a great school leader, they can be remarkable. On the whole, we have seen students enrolled in Zoom programs exceed the academic growth of their peers. At a handful of school sites, innovative principals have used Zoom funds to reimagine classrooms and differentiate instruction. For example, Tate Elementary identifies its very best teachers, assigns a handful more students to their classrooms (with additional compensation), and then uses some of the savings to provide small group instruction to students most in need of remediation and support. When I visited the Tate Elementary reading center recently, I saw a room full of enthusiastic readers and heard stories of students who even after reaching proficiency, would purposely try to fail their exit exams so they could remain in the program. I also saw pre-K teachers sitting in a circle on tiny chairs to collaborate on lesson plans. Tate is also using Zoom funding to run a family resource center that was packed wall to wall with parents and their young children working together on art and early literacy projects. Parents have noticed the changes in their children as well. A parent from Sonoma Heights Elementary noted how Zoom has helped their son’s social skills while making new friends and learning important concepts in kindergarten.

A Teacher's Touch

The growth and improvement are also apparent to teachers. A teacher from Manse Elementary remarked that a child in her first year of preschool only knew a few words of English. The child was mostly an observer during class, sitting in the back of the room. By year two, the teacher joyfully announced that the child became an active participant. The student now sits in the front of class, reads aloud stories and leads a group singing songs. The child’s parents told the teacher they were so thankful for Zoom because their child asked all summer, “When do I go back to school?” Schools like Tate, Sonoma Heights and Manse have used the Zoom funding to build a school climate and culture of high academic expectations for English learners. Zoom has enhanced the depth and sustainability of continuous school improvement. [pullquote position="left"]Nevada is committed to sharing best practices. Some of our programs have been set aside for external evaluation. We will use the results to make bigger investments on programs that are working, like those seen at Tate, Sonoma Heights and Manse, while redirecting our scarce funds away from ones that are not. Last year, Nevada vowed to move towards a weighted student funding formula that takes into consideration the unique needs of not just English-language learners, but low-income students, special education students and gifted students. Making this transition brings us yet another step closer to creating an educational system that takes all kids’ needs into account.
Brett Barley
Brett Barley is the deputy superintendent for Student Achievement with the Nevada Department of Education. Prior to joining the Nevada Department of Education, Brett served as a vice president with StudentsFirst, a non-profit organization focused on organizing parents, teachers, and other concerned community members to advocate for great schools for all children. Through this work Brett ...

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