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Equity for English Language Learners

Harrisonburg City Public Schools, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Harrisonburg City Public Schools
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When administrators at Harrisonburg City Public Schools saw performance gaps between ELL and non-ELL students in 2012, they started a dual-language (English and Spanish) kindergarten classroom.

It has since grown to five K6 schools for more than 600 students and was recently expanded to include a K12 newcomers initiative for recent immigrants who don’t speak English.

All staff are required to take a class that the district offers internally on instructional strategies for ELL students, and  instructional coaches continually work with teachers to address the needs of ELL students.

The district also provides emotional and social support to families, especially for children relocated to the community through Church World Service, a refugee resettlement program that’s contracted by the federal government.

Virginia offers two diplomas, standard and advanced. In advanced, students are required to take more math, science and foreign classes and pass nine Virginia end-of-the-course tests in core subject areas, while the standard diploma requires only six tests. An advanced diploma is required to get accepted into a four-year public Virginia university.

Since the initiative started, the number of Latinos who obtained an advanced degree increased from 34 percent to 48 percent. For ELLs, the rate rose from 30 percent to 45 percent.

To start your own program:

  • Have an unwavering belief that all children can learn.
  • Invest in PD and hire staff who believe in the initiative and who can make a positive difference.
  • Include the community in fostering high expectations.