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Manchester School Board Raises Doubts About Staffing Of New English Language Learners Program

Jenn Liv for NPR

The Manchester school district is in the process of overhauling their plans for students learning English.

On Tuesday, the Manchester school board heard about new steps to place more students learning English in regular classes with native English speakers. The district now merges these students to mainstream education soon after their arrival, to avoid making them feel segregated.

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With 1660 children enrolled, the district’s chief equity officer Tina Philibotte said Manchester schools have the most English Language Learners (ELLs) in New Hampshire.

The new approach places ELL students in the same core subjects as native English speakers to promote the socialization of those ELL students. The goal of the model is to make them feel welcome and capable of taking any future classes to advance their knowledge, including Advanced Placement classes.

Nicole Ponti, executive director of English learner instruction and equity, said the idea is to teach language through class content, compared to less inclusive programs, in which ELL students are taught in separate settings for extended periods. “As soon as we can do that gradual release, we will be [as] inclusive as possible, that is the expectation,” Ponti said.

Philibotte said this program could serve as a model to other districts.

But Major Joyce Craig and some members of the board were worried about the plan’s logistics. Critics noted there is only one monitor teacher for every 31 students.

Karen Soule, a representative of Ward 3, questioned the model. Soule said the ratio of teachers to students is low and students may not get needed support.

Jim O’Connell, another representative, raised questions about efforts to achieve higher graduation rates for ELL students. He worried about kids losing a year of learning while these adjustments and new hires are made.

The board concluded further data were required to address the possible problem of underserved students, though they didn’t specify when the data needed to be submitted to the school board.

Corrected: September 15, 2021 at 10:47 AM EDT
This story has been corrected to reflect the accurate ratio of ELL teachers to students. NHPR regrets the error.
Gabriela Lozada is a Report for America corps member. Her focus is on Latinx community with original reporting done in Spanish for ¿Qué hay de Nuevo NH?.

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