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Column: EL program offers plenty for its students

District 518

WORTHINGTON -- Worthington was ranked fifth in Minnesota in percentage of racially isolated districts for the year 2010. That is, the number of English Language (EL) students relative to the total student enrollment was 58 percent. Worthington was preceded only by St. Paul (75 percent), Minneapolis (69 percent), Columbia Heights (66 percent), Richfield (65 percent), and Brooklyn Center (65 percent) of all the districts in Minnesota schools.

For our current school year the diverse population at Prairie Elementary's population was 71.61 percent, Worthington Middle School's student population was 64 percent and Worthington High School's 55.72 percent. The implications for our community as a "small" district are vast, and thus, the necessity for a well-planned English Language program within the school system has emerged and will continue to evolve.

The purpose of the English Language (EL) program in Worthington Public Schools is to provide experiences that promote individual and social well-being and to provide equal educational access for students whose primary language is not English. It is an interdisciplinary program that helps students acquire essential skills for learning a new language and adjusting to a new culture. Recognizing that each student is unique, the aim of the program is to be responsive to the initial and changing needs of the student and to maintain flexibility within the program.

By law, English Language (EL) students are entitled to equal access to America's educational system. The United States Congress addressed the legal obligations of school districts to this population in the Equal Education Opportunity Act of 1974, 20 U.S. C. 1703 which states:

"No state shall deny equal educational opportunity to an individual on account of his or her race, color, sex or national origin by... the failure of an educational agency to overcome language barriers that impede equal participation by its students in its instructional programs." (See to read the law in its entirety.) There have been numerous updates to this law in subsequent years, and there will continue to be legislation that addresses our nation's continued diversity.

The EL programs in Worthington Schools emphasize instructional assistance in the four skill areas of language development -- listening, speaking, reading and writing -- as well as in: (1) social and instructional language; (2) the language of language arts; (3) the language of mathematics; (4) the language of science; and (5) the language of social studies. As such, the EL program assists non-English or limited English speaking students in developing English language skills at a level that will enable them to perform successfully in mainstream classes, graduate from high school, pursue further education and function successfully in American culture.

The EL program is also committed to encouraging a positive self-concept, maintaining a healthy attitude toward individual differences and creating a school wide culture of understanding, empathy and interaction among students, staff, faculty, administration and community members.

The EL Department works with the families and communities of EL students to ensure that students and their families are offered opportunities to learn, grow and participate inside and outside of school. Many of the EL services for students and families extend into academic, cultural and community areas. The Worthington Public Schools English Learner Department provides services to our students through: The EL programs, Early Childhood Family Education, Adult Basic Education, Adult ESL classes, citizenship classes and Language and Culture Enrichment programs.

The EL Department offers content-based EL instructional programs, which strive to promote students' English-language proficiency and mastery of academic content at the same time by integrating subject areas with language objectives. EL students acquire English through participation in age-appropriate instruction that is aligned to national, state and district content standards as well as English language proficiency standards as outlined by WIDA (World-class Instructional Design and Assessment). The primary objective of teaching language through content is to make grade-level standards and curriculum accessible to EL students at all levels. English language acquisition and proficiency is the goal of all of the EL services.

As the city of Worthington continues to grow, one goal of our district is to become a model for rural Minnesota schools that service a diverse population. We invite you to become a partner with the school district through whatever means you feel comfortable and capable. Please contact our community education coordinator or English Language coordinator or your child's school if you would like to participate in any way.

Dr. Deborah J. Mitchell is EL Coordinator for Worthington Public Schools.