The English Language Learner program in the Nashua School District has seen an increase in students so large within the past few years that the student-teacher ratio seems to be working against the favor of the two dozen or so ELL teachers.
With teachers such as Karen Kariger of Elm Street Middle School instructing more than 100 students in conjunction with another ELL teacher at the school, this growing problem has gained attention this summer.
Robert Cioppa, the head of Nashua’s ELL program, who has spent a lot of time these past few months sharing the details of this problem, took a moment to speak with me about the issues.
“I feel for the teachers because I know how invested they are in putting in the best work they can for their students to succeed. They want to see all of the English language learners succeed; they work toward that goal, but due to the large caseload, they simply cannot provide the services each student needs, and it leaves them feeling just frustrated and overwhelmed,” he said.
Cioppa said large numbers of refugees in the town only account for about 100 or so of these students. The diverse culture of Nashua has naturally caused this population of students to grow, so he shared what he knows about the district’s efforts to address the issue.
“I know that there’s a will within the school board and the district to fix this situation that we’re in and it’s going to take a long time for the situation to be resolved. We added a program over at Bicentennial due to the large number of ELL learner’s there are right now, that’s 60 kids for one teacher.”
Neither the teachers, nor the students, seem to be at fault. Each teacher has been described to be extremely dedicated to their students, working to the point at which they feel overwhelmed by the tasks before them. Helping the students is the goal of all these teachers.
Nashua Board of Education President Dorothy Oden expressed appreciation for the teachers’ dedication to these students through means beyond teaching. She believes the best quality learning for these students is the essential goal of this program.
“These ELL teachers deliver direct instruction to our students and that’s why we have schools for our students and we need to be doing everything we can to help all of our students,” Oden said.
Dorothy mentioned that Karen Kariger of Elm Street held a pizza and book night, during which she expanded her connection from the students themselves to their families, who were all able to learn something and see what their kids were doing.
“Their presentations are really the best. I went to Elm Street, when Karen Kariger, the ELL teacher there, had the Pizza & Book Night last fall, and it was obvious that she’s connected with a lot of those students and with the parents. It was a big turnout, very successful, and I guess that with the number of parents there, grandparents, they were all interested in what the kids were getting for books,” Oden said.
“They were interested in their learning. It was absolutely credit to what’s going on in the ELL program, so we need to support this program, and were trying to. Hopefully, I see that there’s a little bit of a surplus here in the city, it would be nice if we could get at least $100,000 for the ELL teachers and, hopefully, some support for our kindergarten direct instruction for the children. This goes right to the classroom, and that’s where we need it.”
Oden also spoke of the budget hearing presence from the ELL staffers, and why she has so much respect for their hard work, along with a high hope for their future.
“I have enormous respect for the ELL program. As I said, the presentation they gave at our budget hearing was just one of the strongest I’ve ever seen, and I guess what you see is dedication, that these teachers have to their students. They certainly made a strong case, and it wasn’t just for them it was for the students and that’s where our focus needs to be on our students”
The teacher shortage situation happens to also be a problem in some surrounding cities, such as Manchester. I am a member of the University of New Hampshire tutoring group, which was offered a position in a joint program to tutor English at the Manchester Central High School ELL program.
Public awareness and volunteer programs are the keys to a bright future for English language learner students in Nashua and beyond.
Mahad Khan is a politics student at the University of New Hampshire and a public opinion journalist for The Telegraph. He is open to inquiries and request for column topics and can be reached at: 603-204-0974.