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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Nashua teachers gear up to better educate English language learners

NASHUA – Nashua school officials and education experts hope a unique program that kicked off Tuesday will help teachers connect with students who are still learning English – a population that’s growing rapidly in city schools.

“The English language learners are often some of the brightest students,” said Kelly Comeau, a sixth-grade math teacher at Elm Street Middle School. “When instruction just focuses on the numbers, they rise to the occasion. But when I bring in the language piece, that’s when they struggle.” ...

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NASHUA – Nashua school officials and education experts hope a unique program that kicked off Tuesday will help teachers connect with students who are still learning English – a population that’s growing rapidly in city schools.

“The English language learners are often some of the brightest students,” said Kelly Comeau, a sixth-grade math teacher at Elm Street Middle School. “When instruction just focuses on the numbers, they rise to the occasion. But when I bring in the language piece, that’s when they struggle.”

Comeau was one of about 40 teachers gathered in the Nashua High School South media center Tuesday to participate in the kick-off of the city’s ELL training program for teachers. The teachers are the first of two groups
expected to complete the
program.

The program is designed to better train teachers to work with students who speak other languages, focusing the resources on science, technology, engineering and mathematics teachers. It is funded by a $1.8 million federal grant awarded to the University of New Hampshire. The Nashua school system was chosen as the university’s recipient and partner.

The number of students in Nashua actively receiving English language learner services has risen by 28 percent in the past five years and nearly 80 teachers applied for the first round of the training program, said Bob Cioppa, the district’s director of student services.

“Really, the reason we got the grant was because the teachers in Nashua showed such an interest when the original grant proposal was put forward,” he said. “That really gave us a leg up.”

The grant brings university educators to the city to train teachers and paraeducators at their schools, working in a large classroom setting and in small, school-centered groups each week.

Each group of educators involved will take courses for a little over two years.

“I’m really excited about working with Nashua,” said program director Dr. Judy Sharkey, a UNH education professor. “I think it’s going to be a wonderful adventure.”

Tuesday’s first session brought the teachers involved up to speed on the program, teaching them what to expect in the months to come.

As they arrived, the educators voiced their expectations and goals for participating in the program.

For Michelle Quadros, a fourth-grade teacher at Birch Hill Elementary School, the Gate City program is a unique opportunity to learn new skills.

Quadros entered the teaching field later in life and is paying off student loans.

“I’m so fortunate that the district is participating in this program,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to do this otherwise.”

And Quadros said strategies to work with English language learners are becoming increasingly vital at Birch Hill.

While the school does have an ELL teacher who works with those students in need of services, there are still many challenges for a classroom teacher.

“It’s difficult to communicate with them,” she said. “Immersion is the best process to learn English, but that takes time.”

Elizabeth Kosta, intensive needs teacher at Amherst Street Elementary School, said one of the challenges for teachers is balancing the desire to give students with limited English proficiency more personalized attention with the need to teach a whole classroom.

There is just not enough time in the school day, she said.

Kosta is hoping the Gate City program will help her develop skills that can aid all of her students, not only those still learning English.

“I think there’s a great crossover with the students I teach, a lot of whom also have language and communication difficulties,” Kosta said. “This seems like a really phenomenal program.”

Danielle Curtis can be reached
at 594-6557 or dcurtis@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Curtis on Twitter (Telegraph_DC).