Summit School District eyes new program to aid English-learning students

Proposal builds on pledge by district officials to close the academic gap between English-learning students and those fluent in the language

A school bus is pictured at the Summit School District's bus barn in Frisco. The district's board of education is considering implementing a new learning program to aid multilingual elementary schoolers.
Tripp Fay/Summit Daily News archive

The Summit Board of Education is considering adopting a new program aimed at better supporting English-learning students — an effort that has been flagged as a top priority for both district officials and parents in recent months. 

During a March 9 meeting, board members were presented with a proposal by Beth Dove, the district’s coordinator for culturally and linguistically diverse education, to purchase National Geographic’s Our World series which provides “cross-curricular topics” and material including reading, photography and video to improve English learning for elementary students. 

According to Dove, the series — equipped with an online platform for teachers and students — provides “native language support,” includes “newcomer teacher and learning materials that are culturally relevant” and ensures “foundational English language skills.”

“Our district and student data indicates a need to strengthen these supports in language developments among multilingual students,” Dove said. 

District leaders’ discussions around how to better support English learners come after months of concern about the educational divide that has formed between students fluent in the language and those who are not. 

Last fall, data from the district showed discrepancies between the test scores of such students, with English-learning students struggling more compared to their peers. The district’s student body is nearly 40% Hispanic, according to district Chief Financial Officer Kara Drake, and more than 1,000 students are multilingual learners, according to Dove.

The district also has 228 students who are new to the United States within the last two years, a demographic “needing extra support” when it comes to English, Dove said. 

Board members signaled support for the program as several also questioned ways to continue to involve district parents to be involved with its rollout. 

Board member Julie Shapiro mentioned the district’s recently-launched advisory committee for Spanish-speaking parents, dubbed Consejo De Familias Hispanas, and asked if “there’s ways we can link those two.”

Dove said about a dozen Hispanic families were consulted over recent weeks as district officials debated which existing programs would be best before settling on National Geographic’s Our World.

Other board members asked what challenges the district may encounter as it implements the program to which Dove said some teachers may face a learning curve as they try to acclimate themselves and their students to the new material.

“For example, we might have one teacher who has 90 students on their caseload, and so trying to implement this program appropriately and adequately for that number of students in and of itself will create a challenge,” Dove said, adding that officials are working on ways to address such issues. 

The total cost of purchasing the materials and subscribing to the program will be $42,000, according to Dove. The money will come from a federally funded grant under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Board members are set to vote on the purchase March 23. 

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