ESL families are choosing Cumberland school district

ESL families are choosing Cumberland school district

McCourt Middle School is actively working with students from other countries to increase their English language skills through the English Language Learners program. Teacher Lou-Ann Broadmeadow stands in front of 8th-graders as they read and discuss the book ÒSoldiers HeartÓ by Gary Paulsen earlier this month. (Valley Breeze photos by David Wuerth)
Rosetta Stone software speeds up language mastery

CUMBERLAND - Travel around Cumberland classrooms this year and you'll hear 26 foreign languages spoken by 95 students enrolled in the English as a Second Language program. And there are another 48 former ESL students whose progress will be monitored for another few years.

They're the responsibility of ESL coordinator Lou-Ann Broadmeadow, a professional photographer turned teacher who has a staff of teachers mostly serving B.F. Norton Elementary and McCourt Middle schools, but also seeing students in nearly every other school in town.

Six years ago, Cumberland had half the number of today, but this year's number is so high that a chart provided by the Rhode Island Department of Education shows Cumberland is one of just two suburban schools with numbers exceeding 90 ESL students. The other is Bristol-Warren.

The active census sees 46 ESL students at B.F. Norton, seven at Garvin, eight at McLaughlin Cumberland Hill, four at Ashton, 10 at the high school and 20 at McCourt. Only Community and North Middle currently have no ESL students.

They bring to Cumberland the languages of Afrikaans, Arabic, Branda, Chinese, Creoles, French, German, Gujarati, Hindi, Indonesian, Italian, Malayalm, Marathi, Pilipino, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Tamil, Telugu, Twi, Urdu, Vietnamese and Wolof.

Already, 15 new ESL students are enrolled for kindergarten this fall with many expected as late as October.

All other Rhode Island districts with large numbers of English language learners are urban or urban ring schools.

In fact, Cumberland may soon be designated a "high incidence" district by the state Department of Education and as such will be required to hire a new administrator to oversee the program.

Why so many? It was just a few years ago that town officials were unhappy to hear that the area's major firms in Highland Park as well as Fidelity in Smithfield were advising new employees with families to settle over the line in a Massachusetts school system.

But when non-English speaking families are involved, suggests Broadmeadow, they're settling right into Cumberland, a district she says is known for an advanced ESL program.

Many are starting out at Cumberland Crossing apartment complex, she said.

And even while others might settle first in Pawtucket, Central Falls and Woonsocket, she says, "as incomes increase, you cross over to Lincoln and Cumberland."

Currently, only the seven Rhode Island districts with 150 or more English language learners, as they're often called, are "high incidence," but RIDE spokesman Elliot Krieger told The Breeze the Board of Education is being asked to consider new regulations that would change the definition to 75 or more, or 5 percent of the student population.

The request goes before the board later this spring, he said.

Broadmeadow is based at McCourt Middle School where all the middle school ELL students attend.

She's in her 6th year with Cumberland after three years with the Central Falls school system.

Cumberland previously grouped all elementary school England language learners at B.F. Norton School. Today, 46 ELL students are enrolled in the Valley Falls school, but the grouping practice was actually discriminatory, she says. Fourteen more are scattered throughout the other four elementary schools now.

Her 18-member 8th-grade class represents countries as far-flung as Senegal, China, and Argentina. Two in the past month came from Vietnam.

Her newcomers spend three periods a day with her, while others spend one or two periods, depending on their abilities.

Hers is a classroom crammed with visual stimulation - pictures and words fill nearly every inch of the wall.

Broadmeadow says she speaks "some French and Spanish," but can't possibly learn the native language of every child.

Still, they're mastering English, she says, and at a rate twice as fast as past years thanks to a computer lab loaded up with the software Rosetta Stone for the beginners and Quill for the more experienced.

Tourists have been using the Rosetta Stone software for languages for years, but Broadmeadow says students from around the world are flourishing using the Rosetta Stone academic version.

Rosetta Stone and Quill are funded through a Title III federal grant, after Broadmeadow found them through research.

"I was looking for something to help kids who were just arriving in the country," she said.

Rosetta Stone "gives them a little extra boost because they're not speaking to a group, but a computer," she says.

"They're making fantastic progress," she says.

But then they have to. These are students expected to learn in hurry.

They must take the math standardized state test, NECAP, the first year they're here and the language arts test in the second year.

Broadmeadow's approach is a focused one that keeps her in classrooms all day long.

"I'm a professional student," she quips. "I can't imagine not being in a classroom."

Computer software does the teaching, while she and others run interference with their subject classes.

Broadmeadow travels with 8th-graders to their social studies class and a teacher assistant is with 6th-graders in science.

It's all about comprehension, she says. "If a child doesn't understand, he or she can't learn. There's a lot of translation going on," she says.

During social studies class with Rhonda Silva, she stands at the back and takes notes with her students always watching "to see where they might struggle."

Broadmeadow reviews tests in advance to look for wording that will be confusing or to simply suggest formatting changes such as putting the questions in bold type and adding spacing between the questions. Crowded sentences are "visually overwhelming."

Students are coping with more than learning English, she points out. "There's a new language shock, the culture shock, the weather shock." Her student from Vietnam arrived to find snow.

The early months in Cumberland see them holding back their emotions as they cope with missing friends and families. "There's a silent period when they're not ready to speak," she says.

Students also come to her classes without the cultural backdrop generally taken for granted.

"When you don't grow up here, you don't have a lot of information about the American Civil War. The American Revolution doesn't play in Chinese," she says.

Her students are reading the book "Soldier's Heart" about the Civil War to both better their English skills but also fill in social studies class gaps.

A Cumberland resident, Broadmeadow was a professional photographer in Pawtucket for 20 years and holds a bachelor's of fine arts degree in photography/print making and a minor in art history, as well as a master's degree in education of teaching, with K-6 certification and certification in middle school English language arts.

She moved into teaching a decade ago, she says, "when I realized what I loved most about my work as a photographer was working with kids."

She loves the middle school students, admitting, "You've got to have a sense of humor, things get so crazy."

Eighth-grader Julianny Rodriguez works on an English learning program in the computer lab at McCourt Middle School on April 4.


At the risk of sounding ANTI-school...ANTI-children....ANTI-AMERICAN! I don't necessarily question the commitment to "ESL", but wonder if the same commitment is being made to "eFl" (English as a FIRST language!) And shouldn't the onus be on the FAMILY to teach their children the native language of the country that they have chose to live in? It should AT LEAST be THEIR responsibility to seek ESL training ON THEIR OWN! I'm not saying to eliminate the ESL program altogether, but when foreigners are deliberately targeting your community to move to receive special treatment for their inability to speak the native language. well, I would not expect that from any other country. Furthermore, this program is taking away funds from ENGLISH speaking students, and now, by law, because of the size of the ESL program, an administrator will have to hired? When everyone has to pay for benefits for a few with "special needs", that is called SOCIALISM! It does not mean that I do not empathize or care, it means that I should not be RESPONSIBLE.