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A school district expands an ESL initiative

EXTRA SUPPORT—At the ESL academy, high school ELLs get after-school help with homework and other study support. Teachers from all disciplines are available while students work independently, in teams or in small groups.
EXTRA SUPPORT—At the ESL academy, high school ELLs get after-school help with homework and other study support. Teachers from all disciplines are available while students work independently, in teams or in small groups.

Editor’s Note: Nuts and Bolts delves into the development of an innovative program.

District leaders of Piscataway Township Schools five years ago decided they needed to more effectively serve its large—and rapidly growing—population of English language learners.

A combination of grants and community outreach allowed the New Jersey district to adopt a “cradle to career” approach by:

  • expanding its preschool program to more effectively prepare infants and toddlers for kindergarten
  • providing ESL certification for pre-K through 12 teachers
  • creating a Saturday program for students and parents

“We felt that if we could identify ELLs early on and start services before kindergarten, then they would have a better command of English when they reached first grade,” says Glennysha Jurado-Moran, world language ESL supervisor.

This support continues through grade 12. “We take a lot of pride in our diversity,” Jurado-Moran says. “We embrace it, we celebrate it.”

Piscataway Township Schools

  • Serves pre-K through 12 with over 7,000 students
  • Five Title 1 schools (one K3, one 4-5, two middle schools, one high school)
  • Students collectively speak more than 62 languages at home
  • 435 ELLs (60-70 ELLs in high school)
Student population:
  • 18% white
  • 28% black
  • 32% Asian
  • 18% Hispanic

A new school

District leaders also expanded services as demand for pre-K grew. Community feedback determined that parents wanted programs for younger children as well as a longer “wraparound day” that included before- and after-school care.

District leaders leased a new space for toddlers and preschoolers. Next, they searched for nurses and bilingual, ESL-endorsed teachers with multicultural classroom experience. To this day, job candidates shadow employees, interact with students, and meet key administrators and articulate with kindergarten teachers.

Now ELLs learn through songs and books during playtime with English-speaking students, says Kim Georgeian, director of community programs.

The district’s Early Launch to Learning Initiative, a grant that supports pre-K education for low-income children, currently pays for 67 4-year-olds to attend the program free. The remainder of the building is occupied by children ranging from 6 weeks to 5 years old.

While this funding has not increased, it still allows students to access the program and its health services, including dental and vision care.  

Dual certifications: Pre-K through 12

Piscataway Township runs funding programs so teachers can earn dual certification by attending ESL courses, available to teachers in pre-K through 12. For K12 schools, the district secured Title 1 grants for 60 general-ed teachers to attend College of New Jersey and an online Rowan University program.

“Dual certification is one of our biggest tools,” says Jurado-Moran. Certified teachers have skills to instruct ELLs and non-ELLs simultaneously without bringing the class to a halt when students don’t understand certain words.

“This allows students to hear everyone speaking the language fluently—it’s very effective,” says Jurado-Moran.

Elementary teachers are first in line for certification because they work with younger ELLs, and early literacy is key. The district offers additional webinars for high school teachers.

High schoolers and their parents

Five years ago, the district launched the ESL Academy after-school and Saturday program, developed by Jurado-Moran and high school principal Jason Lester.

Students build their academic language and can get assistance with core content classes so they stay on track to graduate. Title 1 grants pay to bus students to the high school to work with math, science, history and ESL teachers.

Buses also pick up parents for the academy’s adult program, where they learn English as well as how to fill out applications and interview for jobs. Educators help parents sign up for online English programs and navigate the school’s learning management system.

Recently, teachers prepared one parent for the citizenship test.

“Our adult program isn’t just teaching parents the English language,” says Jurado-Moran. “We’re teaching them about America and our culture.”