ELMHURST – While some students may not look forward to the first day of school, District 205’s new English Language Learner Program Coordinator is plenty excited to get started.
“I really feel like we can do some amazing things,” said Ariana Leonard, who is returning to Illinois after nine years experience as a teacher and administrator in Florida.
The Homewood-Flossmoor High School graduate has degrees in political science and Spanish education, but she’s found her passion in ELL education.
“It’s always been a part of my life. My parents are both bilingual,” Leonard said.
While both her mother and father were born in the U.S., they knew English and Spanish. They also were educators.
“Elmhurst is a very diverse community,” said Leonard, adding the district has a growing population of students whose first language is not English, which is a trend she sees nationwide.
She said the most common language among ELL students in the district is Spanish, but there also are many other languages represented.
Concern & praise
A year after some parents raised concerns about Conrad Fischer Elementary’s self-contained ELL classroom, the same school is gaining recognition for it’s bilingual programs.
Last summer, some parents were worried the self-contained classroom could separate students and threaten the community feel at Fischer.
Fischer was featured in the June issue of the Illinois School Psychologists Association magazine in an article highlighting bilingual parent workshops led by Principal Jane Bailey and bilingual parent liaison Eréndira Loza-Navarro during the winter.
“As a parent, I think that one of our primary responsibilities is the education of our children,” Bailey said.
She went on to explain its important to show parents, including those who don’t speak English as their first language, teachers and school staff are available for support.
Driven by diversity
According to the Illinois State Board of Education, Fischer serves 488 students, 31 percent of whom are white, 4 percent black, 53 percent Hispanic, 9 percent Asian, 1 percent Pacific Islander, and 2 percent are multiracial.
“I think there’s always been a positive attitude in the Fischer community about its diversity,” Bailey said.
Leonard said Conrad Fischer Elementary is probably the school with the largest population of ELL students in the district.
At Fischer, 43 percent of students are English Language Learners, compared to 5 percent within the entire district, according to the State Board of Education’s 2013 numbers.
Bailey explained she’s seen ELL students succeed academically just as much as their non-ELL peers.
“The Fischer kids will be academically competitive by the time they get to York [High School],” Bailey said.
Fischer also will host adult English as a Second Language classes this fall, led by the College of DuPage.
“I think it’s a really great opportunity for our parents to get involved,” Leonard said.
She’s looking forward to working with teachers at all grade levels to make ELL students bilingual students.
“If we’re going to prepare students for global citizenship, they need to be able to communicate with people from across the globe,” Leonard said.