More than half of 2,500 students in the small Russellville, Alabama city school district now identify as Hispanic or Latino, and about a quarter are English language learners, or EL students. But as the district was "trying to teach an increasing number of EL students with predominately white teachers that speak English," Russellville's superintendent Dr. Heath Grimes had a game-changing idea, writes Rebecca Griesbach of Al.com.
“Why are we not using resources that we have in our community?’
The question sparked a "bold experiment" of recruiting Spanish-speaking talent from the local community and training them to become qualified teachers, in part through Reach's job-embedded degree apprenticeships.
The experiment has has placed Russellville on a path to become a model for the rest of the state with unprecedented boosts in learner proficiency scores, writes Griesbach.
“We’ve never seen a number like that before,” said Grimes, who credits new EL teachers in the district, as well as seven new EL aides at West Elementary, for the boost.
At West Elementary, Elizabeth Alonzo is settling into her second year as a EL aide - a role she didn't expect to be in, mostly because there were few bilingual teachers in her school growing up.
Like a couple of other staff members, Alonzo is currently finishing coursework through a teacher training program called Reach University, which is contracting with an increasing number of Alabama districts to help certify more local staff, shares Griesbach.
"Whenever I started kindergarten, I didn’t know a word of English, so I struggled a lot,” Alonzo said, noting that an older cousin would often have to come to her class to translate what her teacher was saying.
"That was one of the reasons why I wanted to do this, because I want to help those students.”
Read the full story here.
Image showcasing Elizabeth Alonzo working with her Russellville students. Image courtesy of Reach University.