The school also engages families through a variety of linguistically-responsive communications, including an app that provides translation for monolingual parents and caregivers. There is even an English learner interventionist on staff to further assist students towards growth in English fluency and content mastery.
“If you are aware of and sensitive to other cultures and customs, [people will] respect you as a person,” said second-grade teacher Eleni Paul, who was once an English learner herself. “And I feel that we have that in this community. The key to success is to make students understand that you are there for them and no matter what their situation is, you’re going to try to uplift them.”
She tells her story and invites other English learners to speak to her class to illustrate success in moving to a brand-new country and learning a new language. “I tell them, ‘Don’t think that you have to drop your native language in order to be successful in English.’ They have to be proud of who they are. Learning in a new language is one of those challenges that if you apply yourself, you can do it.”
Bennett’s English learners are doing exactly that, and the school’s strategies are clearly demonstrating results. From 2017 to 2019, Bennett’s English learners were among few students across the state that were consistently learning at faster rates than the majority of their peers. That’s not just relative to other English learners, either. EL students at Bennett demonstrate above average growth when compared to the growth rates of all students across the state with similar scores on Michigan’s annual student exams. As it’s not uncommon for English learner students to come to the school with no to little English skills, this is no small achievement.
Using data to inform student support
Just as the school is intentional about honoring students’ cultures and native language, there is also intentionality to support students to become academically successful across subject areas. To do that, Bennet’s entire staff is centered on understanding students’ data – and using data to inform instructional supports for students.
For example, at the start of new units, assessments are given to help tailor learning for each student. Students are also active partners in reviewing their data, setting learning goals, and planning strategies with their teachers to achieve them. Various assessments track student growth and progress. Some are used to track progress over each quarter, but the ones in which students are most closely involved occur each week.
What’s special about observing individual student binders at Bennett is the specificity with which even the youngest learners at the school not only record their actual scores, but write out reflections on their progress throughout the week. Especially remarkable is to see the progression as students’ self-reflection sheets evolve from being written with just consonant sounds — or even pictures — to complete sentences.
There is also an emphasis on building vocabulary across all subjects and reading in school and at home as often as possible to boost students’ fluency in English, alongside building a passion for learning new information.
One teacher at the school shared this example:
“I go through the same process where they’re given the word, then they draw to represent the word. Sometimes we push it further, depending on the word, and act it out, just so it becomes used. [After that], I catch them using the word in conversation.”