Best Practices for Serving English Language Learners and Their Families
Section IV: Policy Checkup
To ensure students feel welcome, valued and safe enough to learn, schools must actively cultivate a welcoming climate that values every member of its student body. This means that the spoken and unspoken messages students receive in every school interaction tell them that they are cared about and respected. Periodically reviewing administrative policies through the lens of ELL inclusion helps schools maintain a welcoming culture while also remaining compliant with some of the lesser-known laws related to ELL students.
Enrolling ELL and Immigrant Students: Best Practices
Enrollment is almost always a family’s first contact with the school. What message does the enrollment process send at your school? Consider these best practices when reviewing enrollment policies:
- Plan for language access and make sure translated resources are visible in the office and on the website. (See the Language Access section under Family Engagement.)
- Train all employees who do registration and enrollment activities in proper procedures. Include front office staff who are the first people to interact with visitors and answer phone calls.
- Remove all requests for social security numbers from all forms and flyers communicating registration requirements.
- Offer an array of document types that families can show to prove a student’s age and residency.
- Prepare a home language survey for families to fill out when enrolling. Allow families to tell you the language(s) they speak at home, their preference for language instruction at school and their language choice for communication from teachers and staff. If adult English language courses are available in your community, ask parents and guardians if they are interested in enrolling.
“It's our duty as educators to make our ELL students feel welcome and safe when they are in our schools. This can be as simple as a genuine smile and a hello in the morning, pairing them up with compassionate partners during class activities, and integrating languages or heritage permanently into murals or artwork to create a sense of belonging to the school environment.”
Amy Melik, TT Advisory Board member
Did You Know…?
Test your knowledge! What you learn could make the difference between a smooth, empowering enrollment experience or a rocky start—or even a legal complaint.
- Federal law states that public schools must enroll and register every child who resides in the school’s geographic boundaries, regardless of the child’s or parents’ citizenship or immigration status.
- Enrollment cannot be denied based on a student’s or family member’s possession of a foreign birth certificate or lack of possession of a U.S. passport.
- A student’s immigration or citizenship status is not relevant to establishing residency within the district.
- Public schools do not need a social security number for any legitimate reason. Student IDs can be issued and free or reduced lunch can be applied for without this number.
- A student cannot be denied enrollment because the student (or the student’s parent or guardian) chooses not to provide a social security number.
Monitoring the Language Program
All schools want their ELL students to be successful. In a successful language program, ELL students will reach the following goals:
- meeting exit criteria within a reasonable period of time;
- participating meaningfully in classes without ELL services;
- and performing comparably to their never-ELL peers.
A language program is unsuccessful when ELL students are not making progress in the program and are not exiting by the anticipated time. Districts are required to periodically evaluate the program and modify the program when it is not successful. Monitoring the program between evaluation periods is a proactive way to make sure kids are on track and that the program isn’t heading in the wrong direction. See Appendix C for a graphic organizer that can assist in monitoring the success of an ELL program. The organizer can be modified for use at the classroom or administrative level.
Teacher Leadership Spotlight
Be an advocate; make it known that a student’s language acquisition level is unrelated to the possibility that they could benefit from specialized instruction like special education or advanced coursework. Many schools hesitate to test ELL students for special education services. As a general rule, a cognitive disability must be found in both English and in the student’s home language for an ELL student to receive special education services. Schools may also default to using core competency data or test scores when offering students talented and gifted services. Encourage your district to expand gifted programs to include students who excel in the arts, social studies and world languages.