Linda Howard enters into a classroom to meet with her student, a second-grade Korean immigrant named Ryan. The Webster alum works with him through Parkway’s English Language Learners Program.
Howard travels between four schools – Claymont, Henry Elementary, Pierremont and Barretts. Additionally, Howard teaches kindergarten and first grade English Language Learners (ELL). The district recommends students in second grade and up to study in a center school.
Howard said when Ryan and his family arrived in the U.S. his mother was crushed to discover the limited resources in his public school.
“She had done some research before they moved from Korea and so she wanted to be in this area and she had no idea that there would not be any English language support for her son,” Howard said.
Center Schools like Hanna Woods focus on learning language through full-time, on-site teachers, community building for family and field trips to locations like a pumpkin patch.
“They are there all day, every day,” Howard said. “They know their kids and they know their families. I think about where I am and how I am in four different buildings and I can’t do that.”
Second grade teacher Julie Weis said when Ryan first started at Barretts Elementary, he could say short sentences in English like “I went to the pool.” Now, Ryan is writing full pages and dreaming up new cars like the “Mercedes Benz s9999999” after working with Howard.
School of Education
Webster’s School of Education and Teaching English as a Second Language program received a $2.7 million National Professional Development (NPD) grant in early September. The five-year grant will provide funds for 120 teachers in St. Louis area public schools to complete coursework to receive an ELL certificate.
Project director and associate professor DJ Kaiser said the path to receive the grant was a two and a half year process of collaborating with area schools.
“I was trying to do estimates on when the competition was going to happen and we heard rumors that they might do it,” Kaiser said. “So, we began meeting with school districts to get enough people interested and say we don’t know if this grant will be run or not. But, let’s get ideas together so when they do announce, we aren’t scrambling to start.”
Kaiser said they were not successful in receiving the grant last year. He said large, national grant competitions are highly competitive, but they took the feedback and it applied it to the grant process this year.
This time, Kaiser, co-director Yin Lam Lee-Johnson and their team were successful. Kaiser said there were 269 applicants for the grant competition and 42 were awarded nation-wide.
Associate professor Yin Lam Lee-Johnson said the grant money will be used in a variety of ways. The primary use is to cover tuition for teachers in the partner school districts who wish to receive their certificate in ELL. The partner school districts include Parkway, St. Louis Public Schools and Ritenour.
“It takes about two years for each person to complete the certification courses,” Lee-Johnson said. “We will run the grant for five years and in a total of five years, we will serve 120 new teachers that can be certified to teach ESL in K-12 public schools.”
Kaiser said the money will also cover text books teachers can borrow and technology for classrooms to make them more interactive for students, such as SmartBoards and AppleTV.
The ELL Director for St. Louis Public Schools Alla Gonzalez Del Castillo said the district enrolled 700 new ELL students last year. She said because of this increase, the district currently has 2700 ELL students. She attributed part of this rise in ELL students to an increase in immigrants in the St. Louis area.
“Last year, the numbers of refugees who resettled in St. Louis drastically increased,” Castillo said. “As a school district that collaborates directly with the International Institute, we saw direct impact. Because their number of families and students increased, that prompted us to have that increase.”
Castillo said the district has 60 teachers who have the ability to teach the 2700 ESL students.
Additionally, the Parkway School District saw an increase over the last several years as well. Howard said the number of ELL students from 2012 to 2017 increased from 591 to 1290. The number of teachers with their ELL certification is 26. Like Howard, several of the teachers in the district travel between schools to work with their students.
“When I am moving from building to building, it feels very rushed and scattered,” Howard said. “So, if we have more teachers that are certified teaching English learners, it’s going to help all students and it will help the growing population.”
Castillo said she believes this grant will allow the school districts to better meet the needs of the growing ELL population.
“This grant gives us a way to increase the capacity of our staff members and allow more people to have that knowledge and expertise to be able to serve the needs of English language learners in our district,” Castillo said.