NNPS earns national award for educating English Learners

Posted: March 22, 2018

Newport News Public Schools' English as a Second Language program is a grand-prize winner in the National School Board Association's 2018 Magna Awards program. This year's Magna program highlights equity in education and recognizes school districts that remove barriers to achievement. NNPS is one of three grand prize winners.

With over 55 languages represented by more than 1,500 ELs (English Learners), and an increasing number of students with limited to no prior school experience, Newport News Public Schools has made transformative strides to support student learning and acclimate students to the American school environment and culture.

"I am extremely proud of our English as a Second Language program," said Brian Nichols, acting superintendent. "From enrollment to graduation, Newport News Public Schools is ensuring that English Learners have the academic, social, and emotional supports they need to be successful."

In addition to studying and learning integrated language arts, math, science, social studies and related arts, EL student coursework supports students in attaining English language proficiency in reading, writing, speaking and listening. Each EL student has an English Language Support plan based on the student's proficiency level and prior school experience.

Newport News Public Schools offers extensive resources for EL students and families. New EL families may begin the enrollment process at a neighborhood school or at the school division's ESL Welcome Center. With the support of bilingual staff and interpretation resources, the Welcome Center guides families through the registration process and provides a language screening to determine if students qualify for ESL instructional services. Three employees staff the Welcome Center: an Assessment Specialist, an ESL Administrative Specialist/Registrar, and an ESL School and Family Engagement (SAFE) Coach.

The ESL SAFE Coach supports families through a Parents as Education Partners (PEP) program. New families attend an orientation about the school district and all EL families may attend quarterly information sessions that address specific education related topics. At PEP sessions, interpreters are provided for each language spoken by the families. Transportation is provided and tutoring is available for students.

For preschool and elementary EL students, services are offered at all four of the school division's early childhood centers and all 25 elementary schools. Secondary ELs are served at three middle school centers and two high school centers.

Over the past five years, the ESL instructional program has also been under revision to ensure that students with limited and interrupted schooling have the instructional supports to progress. In 2013, the newcomer program was launched with the addition of ESL English courses in high school. The course is taught by a dually certified ESL/English teacher. After much success, an additional newcomer class and ESL English 2 were created. The following year, an elementary newcomer program was added for new EL students with limited schooling in second through fifth grade. Since this time, the newcomer program has expanded to two elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school.

At the elementary and middle school level, newcomer classes have a "buddy" class on the same grade level that they partner with to attend field trips, eat lunch, and join for PE, art, music, and special events.

Across the school division, the use of phone based language interpretation services helps remove the communication barrier for families. The service provides 24-hour access to certified interpreters representing more than 170 languages. Teachers and staff utilize this service to request an interpreter for the language needed, and proceed with either a three-way phone call with a parent or use an interpreter on speaker phone during face-to-face parent conferences.

Newport News Public Schools is highlighted in the April 2018 issue of American School Board Journal. The school division will be honored at the National School Boards Association's annual conference in San Antonio, Texas in April.

View more information about the Newport News Public Schools English as a Second Language program.