Students thrive under Metro Schools’ EL program

Special Reports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — They hail from more than 143 countries around the world and speak more than 140 languages and dialects, and now they’re living and learning in Nashville.

“There are around 84,000 to 85,000 students in Metro Nashville Public Schools and of those students, one in three actually speaks a second language at home, and of that one third of our district, around 15,000 students are not proficient in English yet,” said Molly Stovall Hegwood, Executive Director of the Office of English Learners Program.

“We have opportunities for our English learners that no other district in Tennessee has,” Stovall Hegwood said. “We have after-school programming in many of our schools; we have English classes for parents; we have community partnerships with Conexion and TIRRC that are really, really valuable. That attracts families to Nashville.”

When those families first enroll, students are given a language assessment and placed in EL services at the school they plan to attend.

“They spend about an hour or two every day with a teacher, an EL teacher, that works with them on their language skills. The remainder of the day, they’re with their math, science, social studies teachers, so we want to make sure all of those teachers have the skills necessary in order to help those students meet their language proficiency and content needs,” Stovall Hegwood said.

There are 750 EL teachers in the district and the program is tailored to each individual student.

“In the long term, that brain development when you’re acquiring two languages, it propels you,” Stovall Hegwood said. “An interesting fact, our students that have exited the program are actually out-performing our native speakers in our district, so once they acquire their language, they’re excelling.”

So much so, that last year 11 of the district’s valedictorians and salutatorians were former English Learners. Of course learning a second language is beneficial to all students and that’s where the MNPS World Language program comes in.

“When you learn another language, you become more fluent in your own. You become a well-rounded individual with opportunities that extend the typical student who can only speak their native language,” said Jill Petty, MNPS Interim Executive Officer for Curriculum and Instruction.

Petty said all students must have at least two World Language credits to graduate.

“Colleges look at their transcripts, so if they have the world language experience and they can speak another language, those doors open wide for them,” Petty said.

That extends beyond college as speaking multiple languages becomes an increasingly important job asset in the interconnected, global marketplace.

The top three most common languages spoken within Metro schools are Spanish, Arabic and Kurdish. Last year, Egypt was the top country of origin.

For more information about the EL program, click here.

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