Accentuating students’ their multilingual foundation
Another important strategy for success is the belief by staff at Wayne Memorial that students’ cultural experiences and heritage should be honored and reflected in their instruction. Wayne Memorial High, as part of the Wayne-Westland Community School District, utilizes culturally and linguistically responsive practices to enhance academic success.
The district enrolls some 600 students in its Multilingual Learner Services program, renamed recently to retire the typical ELL (English Language Learner) designation.
The rebranding “honors students’ primary language as an asset rather than a deficit and focuses on students’ strengths and what they know, as opposed to what they don’t know,” said Sally Nalu, the program’s director, who understands what it’s like for immigrant families arriving in the U.S. Nalu and her assistant, Lina Mona, both were newcomers from Iraq to the U.S. as youngsters and grew up in homes where Arabic and Aramaic were spoken.
The program’s name change seeks to mitigate stereotypes, said Nalu. Teachers and staff might assume students from immigrant homes lack content knowledge rather than English language skills. Over summer 2023, some 73 Wayne-Westland district teachers took SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observational Protocol) training, to better serve and make core content vocabulary accessible to multilingual learners in their classrooms. That’s in addition to 130 who underwent SIOP training since February 2022. SIOP training, says Nalu, works for all students, not just multilingual learners.
Engaging families of multilingual learners is key to students’ success, said Nalu. “It’s about customer service,” she stresses.
Several times a year, her office makes presentations to multilingual learner families about the breadth of district services. Staffers make sure families know about and sign up for programs such as summer school, college tours, programs to recover lost high school credits, and to fill out college student aid forms.
It’s not just academic support either. Lina Mona, the district’s Multilingual Learner family liaison, steers them to a family resources center, where they can pick up household necessities, too, as well as learn how to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) with the help of staffers who speak Arabic, Spanish or Albanian. If a family contacts Mona’s office with questions, she asks questions back to make sure they know about the full range of services available to them.
“By building that relationship with our families, the students can see we are here for their benefit,” said Nalu. “They can see their multilingual status as an asset, and a part of this country, part of society.”
Data drives college and career readiness
From kindergarten to 12th grade, the Wayne Westland Community School District also seeks to provide students with exposure to college and career readiness opportunities. Assessment data works as a guide and an inspiration.
Daryl Beebe, the district’s Executive Director of College and Career Readiness and Social Emotional Learning, has revamped district programs to use data and innovative thinking to engage the kaleidoscope of students.
“We’re creating an experience for every grade level,” said Beebe.
The State of Michigan requires that every student, grades 7-12, have an EDP, or Educational Development Plan. This district uses Xello software to chart a student’s interests and aptitudes. For those students who show a diverse array of interests or nothing that stands out, Beebe says the most vital thing he can do for them is provide opportunities.
“I think exposure is one of the greatest tools that we have. It breaks down economic barriers,” said Beebe.
So that means bringing students to eye-level with people and experiences that can jumpstart a calling and career.
Beebe and his staff recently launched the district’s first Historically Black College and University (HBCU) fair. Another event, the “Discover Your Path” fair, showcased representatives from the trades and local corporations.
“Students had the opportunity to participate in hands-on experiences. We had plumbers. We had the electric company. We had bricklayers. Our district bus drivers provided demonstrations on how to fix a bus. We had car dealerships here, ” said Beebe. When it was over, one administrator told Beebe that students left enthused and hopeful, expressing comments such as “There’s so much I can do. I never knew I could do a job like that.”
Currently, Beebe is charting an increase in the number of students who seem to be gravitating towards careers that are artistic and expressive. He wonders if that’s an outgrowth of young people’s interaction with the explosion of social media images. To build on that, the district has arranged visits to graphic design and animation studios.
“We found out that animation is in everything. It’s in your car. It’s on your watch,” said Beebe. “I think some of the interest in arts is from social media. A lot of the things that they see and do flow around that.”
Even when Wayne Memorial students visited a Detroit Tigers game, the focus wasn’t on becoming a Major League baseball player. Rather, it was on the wealth of careers visible at the ballpark — from groundskeepers to tech operators who can program the giant scoreboard, from landscape architects to marketers to public relations professionals.
“You may not remember the Pythagorean Theorem from school, but kids remember experiences,” said Beebe. “You’ve got to give them hands-on experiences.”
Through creative instruction and monitoring students interests as well as assessment data, Wayne Memorial High also is giving students hands-on hope.