Nearly 50 Bilingual and ESL program directors and coordinators, from different school districts and charter schools in Region 4, came together this past Thursday to share best practices, collaborate with each other and find solutions to common obstacles during the Bilingual/ESL Summit hosted by HISD’s Multilingual Programs.
The seven-hour event, which is held twice a year, initiated with a welcome from Dr. Gracie Guerrero, Assistant Superintendent for HISD’s Multilingual Programs: “We all have the same passion for serving our English Language Learners and for providing equity and access to the educational services they need. Therefore, our goal is to leave here today with less pressure, realizing that we are not in this alone, we are fighting the same battles, have the same challenges and serve the same students; in consequence, it’s always good to get together to find best practices, collaborate and network.”
In fact, the 22 participating school districts and charter schools were willing to share some of their difficulties.
For example, Program Director in Stafford Municipal School District, Maria Dudash, manifested some challenges while implementing the new Dual Language program. “Just getting everyone on the same page specially administrators, making sure that everyone knows the research behind the program and that it is the best thing for our students.”
The Multilingual Director at Southwest Schools, Bianca Clark, expressed that some of their struggles were making sure that the “curriculum is aligned, also developing teacher trainings which we haven’t gotten into in depth yet.”
At Aldine ISD one of the major concerns is their Newcomer population. “They come lacking language and content knowledge in their first language and some have lots of traumas, sometimes they are here by themselves and come with high expectations in the States, but since they are overcoming multiple hurtles and difficulties it takes a bit longer and sometimes they end up feeling overwhelmed,” said Karen Krall, program director of secondary ESL/LPAC compliance for high schools
Such challenges, were an ideal start for participants to share resources, innovations and brainstorm possible solutions. “This is definitely a perfect venue to do that,” said Itzil Education Specialist at Region 4, who played a major role in developing this semester’s Summit.
The day’s agenda, as agreed by attendees, covered a wide range of subjects such as academic and linguistic services for ELLs, Newcomer instruction and effective strategies to increase vocabulary and reading comprehension, curriculum alignment to new ESL TEKS and ELL support, coaching strategies for Bilingual/ESL and content area teachers, innovative ELL programming, legislature, LPAC processes and best practices, parent engagement and the importance of marketing the work done.
By the end of the day, directors like Tinou Tran of Fortbend ISD manifested their support to this kind of events: “This is my first time attending and it exceeded my expectations. It was clearly an opportunity for meeting with advocates for ELLs, to share best practices and things folks are exploring and trying. It’s just absolutely a total example of collaboration on behalf of the ELLs in Texas.
Spring branch ISD program director, Gretchen Holtsinger, agreed with Tran: “We had a fabulous day collaborating with bilingual ESL directors from across Region 4, we shared new ideas, innovative thinking and we look forward to future opportunities to do it again.”
The next Summit was scheduled for November. “We invite surrounding districts to participate because it prevents us from operating in silos and it allows us to know that there are other districts that are facing similar challenges and that possibly have answers you don’t already have,” said Dr. Guerrero. “Our kids move around, so my kids in Houston ISD may be in Aldine ISD tomorrow, and if we have the same process and offer the same services we’ll ensure a continuation of them to our students which, in the long term, will benefit the children.”