Integrating School and Community: The Many Benefits for ELLs and their Families

Liverpool ENL Family Event

This month we interviewed Katie Knapp, Elementary ENL teacher from the Liverpool School District. She tells us about the many ways that the District collaborates with the community to help ELLs/MLLs and their families.

Q. Katie, please give me a short bio about your experience with ELLs.

A. I have been fortunate enough to work with ELLs for the past eleven years. I began my teaching career in the city of Syracuse, working with ELLs at G.W. Fowler High School, followed by teaching at Blodgett K-8 School. I made a switch to Liverpool Central Schools in 2011, and I have been teaching there ever since. Our ESOL profession is one of the few that works with students of all ages, and I have learned so much from students at every level.

Q. Have you offered special events for ELL parents and families which involved members of the community coming to a school?

A. Last year, in May 2016, we held our first “ENL Family Event” for ELLs and their families in our district. We offered the families an opportunity to come to school in the evening for an ice cream social and information fair. Students and their families ate ice cream, played games, danced, and looked at artwork done by our ELLs. Families that participated were offered free materials such as books, backpacks, pencils and notepads. While the students ate and played, parents were able to interact with several community organizations, including representatives from BOCES Adult English courses, BOCES Adult Vocational Education, the YMCA, and various social services. They were on hand to answer questions, offer and explain services, and reach out to those families that may not have asked for help on their own. We also had a school counselor on hand who shared information about family dynamics including: cultural differences, discipline, mental health support, and other pertinent topics. Afterwards, representatives at the information fair shared their pleasure with the amount of interest expressed by the families. We will be holding our second “ENL Family Event” this month!

Q. Are there any community organizations you have heard of that you would like to partner with in the future?

A. Yes. To expand some of our adult learning opportunities, we plan to make a connection with the Westside Learning Center. This would open up more possibilities for our parents who would like support in learning English.

For our secondary ELLs, we’d like to start incorporating some post-secondary connections for them. We have a relationship with SUNY Oswego, and helping students create connections with other colleges, universities, and vocational schools will support our older ELLs looking past graduation. In the future, having representatives from Onondaga Community College, SUNY Oswego, SUNY Cortland, and others at our ENL Family Event would be ideal.

Q. Have you had the opportunity to take ELLs off site to visit various locations which provided special educational/learning opportunities? What were they?

ENL students at the Wild Animal Park in Chittenango

A. Last summer, Liverpool Central Schools offered an ENL Summer Program that was directed towards ELLs at the Entering and Emerging levels of English proficiency. We wanted to provide our newest ELLs with the opportunity to explore new cultural opportunities that would enhance their education. Our summer program centered around a science/living environment theme, with a specific focus on biomes and habitats. In order to create extension activities as well as authentic application of the material, we brought our 40 ELLs to Beaver Lake Nature Center, as well as The Wild Animal Park in Chittenango. It was a hit! In the past, ELLs in Liverpool have also gone to the Rosamond Gifford Zoo, the Erie Canal, Onondaga Community College, and other local places. A few of our schools are planning on attending the Lantern Festival that is being held in Syracuse this year; that will be a fantastic connection for some of our ELLs!

Q. How does the district encourage ELL families to attend the different events being held?

A. We have seen more families of ELLs attending curriculum nights, open houses, picnics and game nights, as many of our ESOL teachers take the time to personally contact parents/guardians, and we send home translated information. We also let parents know that an interpreter can attend any event to support them in fully understanding the content of the event.

A few years ago, we purchased packs of books for each ELL student in the district. We then personally delivered them to the kids and their families during the summer. This gave us both an opportunity for providing new books in the home, and also an opportunity to meet and chat with parents.

Q. In your opinion, were these activities of value to ELLs and their families, and why do you think it’s important to integrate the community into student learning?

A. I feel that any event that gets ELLs and their families to attend is a huge success. Many of our families have shared their inhibitions about coming to school events, so when those relationships are fostered early and trust is built, we see a tangible uptick in attendance. When the parents/guardians feel a sense of community with the schools, they are more likely to actively participate in their child’s education!

Diane Garafalo is an ENL Consultant on special assignment with Mid-State RBERN through SupportEd LLC.

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