GOSHEN — When Melanie Mendoza enrolled at Goshen High School, the only English words she knew were “I can’t speak English.”
Mendoza started at Goshen three years ago after moving from Mexico to live with her parents here.
Mendoza was put in an English Learner’s class, taught by Jen Eberly. She said Eberly’s teaching, combined with the other Latino students in the school, allowed her to pick up the language in four months.
She didn’t think she would be able to graduate, but because of Eberly she graduated a year earlier than most EL students.
EL students like Mendoza come into schools learning English as a second, third or even fourth language, said Edgar Saucedo-Davilo, Goshen College adjunct professor of education.
Language and cultural barriers can block their way from graduating unless EL teachers can find a way around them, he said.
More teachers have gained skills to teach students like Mendoza thanks to a new program at Goshen College.
MAKING A WAY
This past year, Goshen College offered an 11-month program for full-time teachers to get an English Learner’s license, also known as TSOL or ENL.
While an EL teacher educates students on English, a teacher with an EL license uses it to connect and better teach EL students, Saucedo-Davila said.
“Teachers (with an EL license) know how to relate with students,” Saucedo-Davila said. “As a student you want that connection and to know that somebody is there to support me regardless of language barrier.”
An EL license can ensure teachers help students understand content regardless of their knowledge of English, said Jen Eberly, Goshen High School EL teacher.
The license provides teachers with background of how a second language develops. Teachers learn specific strategies for instruction, assessment, and identifying areas of concern.
“It builds the capacity for the teacher to understand the needs of EL students,” Eberly said. “There is uniqueness when you are learning your second language.”
About 20 percent of Goshen Community Schools students are EL and about 51 percent speak minority languages, she said.
More teachers with EL licenses mean these students can receive a better education, Eberly said.
Also, the license benefits the whole classroom, said Kathy Meyer Reimer, Goshen College director of elementary education.
“It is not only about the (EL student) population, it’s about all the populations,” Meyer Reimer explained.
Besides enabling teachers to better connect with EL students, it allows teachers to connect with students from other cultural backgrounds like poverty. For example, teachers with EL licenses also understand how to effectively educate students in poverty, Meyer Reimer said.
Administration at schools in the area agreed that even if a teacher with an EL license had no EL students, the license is still be beneficial.
While Bethany Christian Schools did not participate in the program, Tim Lehman, head of school, said the program could benefit the school in the future.
“Whether you are a public or private school, it is a benefit to have teachers with that training,” Lehman said. “We like what Goshen College is doing. It is a benefit to us and all the other schools in the area.”
Administration at Concord Community Schools, Elkhart Community Schools, Fairfield Community Schools, Middlebury Community Schools, Elkhart Community Schools and Westview School Corp. made similar remarks.
Westview, which had four teachers go through the program, would like to see more teachers in the program, said Randy Miller, superintendent. He explained the program is “definitely beneficial” for the school’s Amish EL student population.
Besides benefitting students, Miller said the program is a convenient option for teachers.
MAKING A CHANGE
Alejandro Rodriguez came to West Goshen Elementary School to teach general education, but accepted the only position available: an EL teacher.
Rodriguez didn’t want to get the necessary EL license online. Goshen College’s program came at the perfect time for him, he said, allowing him to learn from instructors in a classroom.
He said the in-person instruction made a difference in his teaching style and his career.
“It ignited the passion to help me pursue a career in EL,” Rodriquez said.
Daleanna Woods, EL teacher at Woodland Elementary School in Elkhart, also said the program also helped her be passionate about her job.
Woods, who is starting her second year of teaching EL, said she likely wouldn’t have gone for an EL license, or even her EL teaching position, if not for the program.
The program was partially paid for her by Elkhart Community Schools and it was a short drive to Goshen College. Also, the once-a-week classes fit into her full-time job and full-time mom schedule.
“(Goshen College) really helped me prepare for being being the best EL teacher I can be,” Woods said. “Honestly, I would never go back to the general education position… I can’t think of anything about the (EL) job I don’t like.”
Liz Rieth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-533-2151, ext. 320. Follow Liz on Twitter @liz_rieth.
2017 percentages of EL students in local schools
* Schools participated in Goshen College’s program.
Information retrieved from the Indiana Department of Education and school administration.