Confianza’s goal is to improve outcomes for multilingual learners through our professional learning partnerships with educators. This month, we are highlighting a student success story in the Taunton Public Schools, Massachusetts through an interview with Maeva Coll, the Assessor of English Learners for the district. I’m so excited to share what I’ve learned about one student impacted by a Confianza Professional Learning Partnership in Taunton Public Schools. Confianza has dozens of partnerships with schools, district and networks each school year and we measure our impact by, most importantly, the positive effect on students’ lives. (See more about how we measure our impact data here.)
Maeva, can you tell us a bit about your role in the district?
My role as the English Learner Assessor for Taunton Public Schools gives me the honor to be one of the first staff members to work with our immigrant students. It is so important for me to help them feel comfortable and welcome, and to let them know that we are lucky to have them. I also teach English as a Second Language.
Can you please share with us some background information about the student are are especially proud of right now?
Joi has just recently turned fourteen years old and he just began his first year in Taunton High School, 8th grade. When I checked up on him after the first week, he was showing the resiliency he always had, walking the hectic High School halls with his head held high. Before attending Taunton Schools, Joi moved to Taunton in January 2018 from an African country [note: we are not disclosing all aspects of Joi’s identity to preserve his confidentiality]. Although he grew up speaking mostly English, he has also been exposed to the country’s native language. While the English in his home country is based on British English, there are dialectical variations to the English we use in the US. As the process of learning a language is so dependent on the environment, they have adopted different and multiple meanings for words. They may use vocabulary in contexts that we are not accustomed to in America. Also of note is that he moved here with two of his older siblings who have been very successful in the High School; one already graduating with scholarships to head to college and the other making honor roll. He moved here to live with his aunt, uncle, cousins and grandma. His dad is still living in their home country. He calls his aunt “my mom” since I first met him. (Along with being the EL Assessor and giving him the Screener I was also his ESL teacher that year.) We later discovered his mom died giving birth to him. This is a burden Joi has carried heavily and opened up about during a Social-Emotional Learning activity. His older siblings have sometimes made him feel guilty about it as they have struggled to cope with the loss as well. Joi is an amazing artist. He is social, kind and friendly to everyone. He is highly considerate of those around him, knowing them or not. He is optimistic and resilient; even on bad days, he is positive, thankful, and willing to smile. He has strong family values. He is guided by good morals as he is very religious. He is very energetic and healthy because physical wellness is important to him.
What challenges did the student face upon enrolling in TPS?
Since another language was noted on the Home Language Survey, I gave Joi WIDA’s Language Screener assessment. He clearly had no interest in this assessment as he was busy observing and absorbing this new environment he was to call home. His English Language Proficiency Level came to a Level 1. After a conversation with his family, it was decided that enrolling him in the English Learners’ program would be helpful for him due to the dialectical differences of the English he grew up with, his exposure to another language, and to support him through the cultural adjustment newcomer’s experience. After just a few days, several of his middle school teachers were questioning why Joi was not placed in our Newcomer’s Academy. Teachers, likely nervous with the upcoming state tests, seemed more anxious about welcoming Joi than they were happy to. Instead of feeling embraced, Joi sometimes felt like a nuisance to his teachers. Along with Joi’s accent, teachers found it difficult to understand him because he was born with a “twisted tongue” as his aunt said it was referred to in his home country. This physical difference makes it difficult for Joi to be understood by teachers and peers. It makes life harder for him and is another struggle for him to overcome. Without appropriate differentiation, Joi had struggled his first couple of years in American schooling. Although all teachers have noted he “shows sincere effort”, “is a pleasure to have in class”, “works well independently” or that his “quality of work is improving,” there has clearly been a disconnect between these observations and their abilities to reach him academically. Despite their notes on conduct and effort, he’s received low grades. This was also likely a reflection of him attending the middle school that holds our lowest population of English Learners.
How has this student grown? Can you provide specific examples?
After we worked on understanding and practicing Growth Mindsets, he began to show more effort in the hard work it takes to be successful. After reflecting on his strengths and weaknesses, he realized he could apply strategies that appeal to him, to make learning right and natural for him. Being artistic, one strategy we tried was him drawing quick sketches after every couple of pages read, detailed with dialogue and notes on the side. He has improved in his metacognitive skills, allowing him to ask for clarification or support if needed. He’s also improved in knowing what strategies work best for his style of learning. I worked with him as a tutor last year and plan to tutor him again this year and I so look forward to it as he brightens my day whenever I get to see him!
Is there anything that the general public should know about this student and students like him that they may not really know or understand?
We should understand that children and families moving from other countries will always need time to adjust. No matter how much more “comfortable” or “convenient” the living may be here in the US compared to what they came from, the changes will always come as a shock and their homes will always be missed. Although Joi proudly showed his positive, confident and social personality since his first day in Taunton Public Schools, he was still struggling internally. He needed a safe environment to overcome this adjustment period and settle into his new reality. Just imagine moving from a hot country to cold Massachusetts during our coldest winter months! That alone is a shock to the system! We must also not assume that someone’s life has been easy because they show happiness and a calm demeanor. Although Joi is not a complainer, he has experienced some very difficult and traumatic events. We would never know if we did not take the time to get to know him beyond academic abilities.
How has Confianza support you and this student on this journey?
Through Confianza we have learned so much about how to better work with students like Joi. One amazing idea Confianza shared with us is to create Student Profiles (also known as Individualized Language Plans; see here for more information, see here). With Joi's struggles through school we knew presenting teachers with a profile about him may help them understand who he is as a whole person- his home life, his strengths and weaknesses in his own opinion, his attitude and beliefs towards schooling and his future, his hobbies and interests. Sharing these aspects of his personality and life could help teachers better understand who he is, connect with him, and make learning more meaningful for him.