Salem State University announced plans on Wednesday to begin a four-week program for English Language Learning (ELL) students at Bentley Elementary School.
The program, which begins on July 9 and runs through mid-August and serves 60 students - 12 each from grades one through five - will use science content to help students who speak a first-language other than English improve their English literacy and communication skills.
The initiative is part of the Salem Public Schools' effort to improve programs aimed at new and current students in the district who struggle to learn in English. Salem currently has 559 students enrolled in ELL programs throughout the district - up from 386 just five years ago - with Spanish being the most widely spoken first-language by far, but the city's ELL services fall well below state Department of Education requirements.
"We've had some great beginning collaboration with Salem State," Nancy Meacham, Salem's ELL coordinator, said at Monday night's school committee meeting. "They're very interested in supporting the schools and helping to educate teachers who are really ready to help English language learners in the schools."
One Salem State professor and one Bentley teacher will be paired and assigned to each class, allowing Bentley educators a model for new teaching techniques, and a small student-to-teacher ratio.
The curriculum will be based on science, and students from grades four and five will visit the Salem State campus each week to use the university's science resources and interact with some of the other academic departments.
"We're quite excited about this collaboration between the university and Bentley," Salem State President Patricia Meservey said.
Bentley is second only to Salem High School with 93 students currently enrolled in an ELL program. The school - which has the highest percentage of low-income students, many of them residents of the largely Hispanic Point Neighborhood - was tagged with the second lowest rating by the Department of Education last fall, prompting the adoption of a district-wide turnaround plan by the Salem School Committee.
Part of the overall plan to improve MCAS scores - which fall below state averages across the board - involves improvement of the district's ELL programs, especially in the elementary schools.
"Sometimes people will make a generalization that if someone doesn't speak English they don't necessarily have the skills," Russell said. "A third grader whose having trouble in English very well may be above average in their reading ability in their native language. It's not as much about intelligence in that case as helping the child learn the English language so that they can then master the content."
In order to create an effective system for teaching English in the context of regular school curriculum, the district's teachers must be better equipped to provide instruction to children who struggle through a language barrier. Starting in the fall, the Department of Education is requiring all core academic teachers in Massachusetts to take sanctioned ELL training courses.
The help of Salem State professors could provide an extra boost.
"This collaboration will not only provide an in-depth English language enrichment opportunity for the students," Dr. Mary-Lou Breitborde, associate dean of education at Salem State said in a statement. "It will give teachers and pre-service teachers new experience in research-based, effective approaches to teaching English learners."