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Shawnee Mission School District teams up with Kansas State for English Language Learners program

Posted: 10:32 AM, Jan 23, 2017
Updated: 2017-01-23 18:09:16-05

The Shawnee Mission School District has teamed up with Kansas State University for a program that helps students learn English in addition to their native language.

Darren Dennis, the director of curriculum and assessment for the district, says there's a growing number of English Language Learner (ELL) students.

"There is a substantial population here and a growing population," he said. "We've got over 3,300 ELL students, English Language Learners, in the district right now." 

According to the district's website , there's a total of 82 languages spoken within the school district and 79 percent speak Spanish. 

The district teamed up with Kansas State University professors, training teachers and staff on assisting ELL students in the classroom. 

"Given the dynamics of where our country is today, and how quickly our demographics are changing, we can no longer teach as we've always taught," Kansas State professor, Socorro Herrera said. "Teachers are stepping back and saying, 'ok, I've given you enough to digest, so digest it, let me see what you give me back.'"

Ten schools within the district are a part of the program this year.

Kansas State project managers observe what's going on in the classrooms.

"It’s one way for us to see what's happening, what's needed, where should the dialogue go, what's happening with the students," project manager, Ashabina Kavimandan said. 

Kavimandan says through ELL training, the first step when observing and teaching is understanding that there's a student population that's very different from the main stream population.

"Everybody walking into the doors and classrooms, is coming with a social and cultural capital that is uniquely their own," she said. "And because of that, their vocabulary words that we put up on the board or a question that we put up on the board, a group of students would take it a certain way, but there might be a group of students who are going to look at that a very different way because of the cultural backgrounds they have."
 
Kavimandan says with the collaboration, it's about teachers learning to stop and listen to the conversation the students are having. 
 
"That's how they found out the way they're processing, the way they're connecting the information to the background knowledge," Kavimandan said.

Joanna Euston, an instructional coach at Brookridge Elementary, says the program provides more strategies to meet the needs of all of her students.

"It just gives us more tools in our toolbox to pull from to really make our instruction intentional," Euston said. "It starts by building culture and climate and really making sure that you're building has a culture that is celebrating the background of every single student."

The program focuses on Biography Driven Instruction.

"I think BDI focuses so much on those celebrations. It lends itself to really being able to see who each student is and how they are a member of your school community," Euston said. "Whether that's elementary school, middle school or high school, they all need to feel that they are contributing members. 

This is the second year Shawnee Mission School District has teamed up with Kansas State University for this program.

They're hoping to expand to more schools in the future. 

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Rae Daniel can be reached at  Rae.Daniel@KSHB.com.

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