In the News: E3 touts English-learner system

Group’s best-practices template aims to increase success for new speakers.

By Liliana Valenzuela ¡Ahora Sí!

Students who are learning English and who require additional educational resources may be considered a burden to the Texas education system by some.

But E3 Alliance, an organization that gathers data and creates innovative educational solutions with its partner groups, has come up with a rubric to effectively teach English-language learners so they can become successful. This template of best practices is now taught at 30 schools in nine school districts, and plans are underway to expand to more districts.

One in six students in Texas is learning English; of those, 90 percent are Spanish speakers. For Central Texas, 17 percent of the student body is learning English, or 60,000 students, according to E3 data. The number for Texas as a whole is much bigger: 739,639 students across the state are learning English, a figure bigger than 27 states each have in total student population, according to E3.

Some of the fastest-growing populations of students learning English in Central Texas are in the Florence, Lockhart, Del Valle and Manor school districts.

“We need to change our way of thinking and consider that these children bring qualities and skills, and they are going to contribute to society,” said Olivia Hernández, who directs the Austin school district’s Department of English Language Learners. “We need leaders who can appreciate their culture, so we can really look out for these children’s needs.”

E3’s rubric of best practices for teaching students who are learning English was recently commended   by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. In spite of the shortage of bilingual teachers, any school can benefit   from the set of standards.

While some English learners are immigrants who are in the country without permission, many of them are actually U.S. citizens: 85 percent of students learning English in kindergarten to fifth grade and 59 percent of such students in grades six to 12 were born in the U.S., according to E3 data. Those students grew up speaking Spanish at home and are learning English at school.

“It’s an unbelievable asset to be bilingual and bicultural in Central Texas,” said Michael Griffith, executive director of Breakthrough Austin, a non-profit that helps first-generation college students graduate and one of E3’s partners. “When you build something for those most at risk, it benefits everyone.”

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From left: Christine Bailie, E3 Alliance moderator; Luzelma Canales, executive director of RGV Focus; Teresa Granillo, executive director of Con Mi Madre; and Michael Griffiths, executive director of Breakthrough Austin, take part in a discussion Jan. 28 at E3’s Community Commitment to ELLs and Undocumented Student Success event. LILIANAVALENZUELA / ¡AHORA SI!

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