Assimilating ESL Students, Families
Students speak more than 62 languages at home in Piscataway, New Jersey. So it’s important to immerse limited English-speaking students into conversations and academics, and to provide cultural guidance to their families.
Some students—particularly in preschool and at the elementary level—had no exposure to English other than during the school day. So, the district examined roadblocks to language acquisition for every age group and immersed students in language-rich environments early on.
Piscataway Schools’ innovative ESL program takes a cradle-to-career perspective. The Preschool Program offers early language immersion, health services and grants for tuition. Regular assessments determine whether students are ready for kindergarten and that ESL learners are ready for mainstream classrooms by the end of first grade.
The program was recognized nationally, named a White House Bright Spot for Hispanic Education in 2016.
In elementary school, more than 60 ESL-endorsed teachers allow more students to remain in mainstream classes.
The districtwide program is so successful that the College of New Jersey modeled its ESL Endorsed Teacher Program on Piscataway.
In Piscataway High School’s ESL Academy, classroom work is reviewed on Saturdays and after school to identify language deficiencies and to ensure each student understands the concepts and language necessary to master each subject.
The district also offers family classes and field trips to learn English as well as to help with job searches, interviewing skills and college applications.
Graduation rates, test scores and AP participation are rising.
To start your own program:
- Use multiple avenues to reach families, such as translated letters sent home and open houses. Provide transportation because many immigrant families don’t drive.
- Explore government resources. The district offers 69 free preschool slots through a government grant. Support teachers and staff through PD; encourage all teachers to become ESL-endorsed.