Department Highlight: English as a New Language (ENL)
The Ithaca City School District’s English as a New Language (ENL) program touches every facet of the educational process through its work with the district’s English language learners.
The department helps English language learners (ELLs) at all levels of English proficiency to access the same opportunities as their English-speaking peers. ENL teachers work together with classroom and content area content teachers to ensure access to the curriculum through scaffolds, language objectives and tapping into students' prior knowledge.
About 930 ICSD students – 18 percent – come from homes where another language is spoken, although not all receive ENL services. In all, ICSD families speak 66 different languages.
Students are determined to be eligible for the ENL program based on an interview and state assessment that determines the level of services each child needs.
Beginning English language learners receive services through standalone classes in small groups. ENL teachers also co-teach in regular classroom settings, providing English language instruction in conjunction with core subject area material.
Two years ago, the once-centralized ENL program began expanding its services to all schools, allowing students to attend their neighborhood school instead of traveling to one where ENL services were offered. Today, ENL teachers are in all 12 ICSD schools.
The district employs a variety of ENL teachers, from recent graduates to 30-year veterans, native Ithacans to those who have taught in other states and even countries. Scott Griffith began teaching at Cayuga Heights Elementary this school year after spending five years in Abu Dhabi.
At Cayuga Heights, Griffith works both in small groups and in regular classrooms with eight students of all grade levels. This year, he’s had students from Russia, Pakistan, Romania, Ecuador, Japan, China, Iran and Guatemala.
The introduction of an ENL program to the school has brought a heightened awareness of culture and diversity, Griffith said. He put the flags of each student’s home country on the wall of his teaching space in the library’s computer lab, where students have labeled different items in English.
With a community as diverse as Cayuga Heights, “English is the dominant language you need to use to communicate,” Griffith said. In some groups, four different languages will be spoken, and English is what ties them together.
“Everyone has been extremely welcoming and supportive of the students and of having ENL students in their classrooms,” he said. “It’s really cool for me to see how everyone’s been accepting of our program and excited to have ENL students in our community.”
While there are teachers devoted specifically to ENL, the department provides professional development for all staff, said ENL Coordinator Emily Ufford. New York state now requires 15 percent of professional development to be centered around language acquisition and the needs of ELLs, but that training benefits all students.
“Best practices for English language learners are best practices for all of our students,” she said.
In addition, ENL teachers support family engagement, including an orientation every fall where they introduce families of new ELLs to school staff, routines and expectations as well as give them information about state testing. The ENL program is also working on translating frequently used forms, applications and signs into multiple languages in each building. This will make the schools a more welcoming place for linguistically diverse families, students and staff, as well as give world languages more visibility.
And while learning English is a priority for these students, the continued use of each student’s home language and culture is encouraged. Ufford hopes bringing the Seal of Biliteracy program, which awards an endorsement to students who graduate with demonstrated proficiency in two or more languages, to the district will encourage all students to maintain multiple languages.
“We are so global now and the more we learn about other cultures and languages, the better,” Ufford said.
Did you know? The top languages other than English spoken at ICSD are Chinese, Spanish, Korean, Arabic, Japanese, Karen, Hebrew, French, Russian, and Burmese.