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More teachers on the way to help students learn English

Staff boost ‘critical’ to serve increasing ELL population

Kelloggsville — “Icicles.”

Vietnam-born Thu Vo repeats the word used by Angie DeMott, her second-grade English-language learners teacher, while reading a book about changing seasons. 

Coming from Vietnam to Grand Rapids and Southeast Kelloggsville Elementary, Vo is now learning the English language along with several of her classmates, who come from countries such as El Salvador and Mexico. 

Starting next school year, Kelloggsville Public Schools will be adding 3 ½ ELL teachers and coaches in an effort to provide more support for this growing student population, said Jeff Owen, director of instruction. There are 659 ELL students in the district, or about 25% of the district’s total student population, Owen said. 

 ‘I feel EL support is critical to helping EL students learn English beyond just basic communication skills. It is teaching language acquisition and literacy skills to increase student achievement.’

 — Angie DeMott, English-language learner teacher

“As part of the school improvement process, we identified a learning gap with our EL students,” Owen said. “These students have not been making the academic gains that we would like to see” on standardized tests.

Purchasing a new curriculum for elementary and middle school-level English-language learners is being explored as well.

Increase in English-language Learners

For at least the last decade, the district has seen an increase in its ELL population, Superintendent Jim Alston said. 

“Looking at data on those particular groups’ success or lack thereof, it was time to add some support to that as well,” Alston said.

Research indicates that roughly after five years of being an ELL student, those students should score high enough on the annual English-language assessment to where they wouldn’t need those services, Owen said. 

“We know we’ve got too many students who have been in the program for five or more years so it was time to make some changes to what we were doing,” Owen said. 

The WIDA assessment is the state of Michigan’s official measure the district uses to measure the English proficiency of students considered English-language learners.  

Thu Vo, in yellow, raises three fingers to point out the difference between ‘stair’ and ‘stare’ during a unit on homophones with teacher Angie DeMott

District data showed the current staffing level for ELL teachers “wasn’t quite working” so it was time to increase that, Alston said. The district currently employs seven full-time ELL teachers and one part-time teacher. 

The addition of more ELL staff is “critical,” said DeMott, the teacher, noting there are 99 English-language learner students at Southeast Kelloggsville Elementary School. 

“I feel EL support is critical to helping EL students learn English beyond just basic communication skills,” she said. “It is teaching language acquisition and literacy skills to increase student achievement.” 

The ELL teachers and coaches equip teachers with the tools and strategies they need to deliver comprehensive instruction to students learning English, she said.

“Small-group interventions allow for focused instruction that is tailored to the academic and language needs of English-language learners,” DeMott said.

DeMott, who has taught English to hundreds of children in the past 14 years, asks many questions of her students to get them to use their words. 

“Everyone say ‘nature,’” she said to a group of four students recently. The students did so, correctly pronouncing the word. 

She and her students also read stories aloud together, and the children learned about homophones, or words spelled differently but sounding the same. 

Read more from Kelloggsville:
No excuses, even in the face of loss
Students prepare to be “famous” for end-of-year event

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Sean Bradley
Sean Bradley
Sean Bradley is a DeWitt native who has worked as a news reporter in several cities in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. He moved to Grand Rapids in March 2022 to be closer to the entertainment scene including live music and comedy. After graduating in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in journalism from Central Michigan University, he started his writing career at the Manistee News Advocate, covering city government and law enforcement. He later moved onto The Morning Sun in Alma, and in 2018, went to the Livingston Daily Press and Argus. At these newspapers, he covered school boards and got to know superintendents and staff, learning the ins and outs of education reporting. He is excited to be reporting on Kelloggsville Public Schools for School News Network.


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