By Linda White
One of the first words many of us learn to say as we prepare to visit a foreign country is “Hello.” Nǐ hǎo, Hola, Yeoboseyo, Privet, Namaste, Olá, Kon’nichiwa, Marhabaan, Vaṇakkam, and Merhaba represent ten of the 52 ways Bedford students say “hello.”
Carrie Powers, the Bedford Public School (BPS) English Language Learner (ELL) Program Administrator, has identified that 52 different languages are being spoken by BPS families. Students in Bedford are routinely assessed and offered English language instruction. However, English language skills are also needed and desired by members of Bedford’s adult population. In an effort to address the English language needs of the adult population, Powers sent a notice to all BPS student families announcing a 14-week ESL program for adults.
Within the span of one week, Powers received a total of 80 email responses from parents, grandparents, and extended family members of Bedford students who indicated strong interest in participating in the program. The first 60 responders were invited to attend an initial meeting on January 22, and 53 individuals were enrolled. An additional 17 adults were placed on a Wait List. Those who attended the first session completed a registration form, took a placement test, and were interviewed by volunteers to establish a base line assessment of their current written, oral, and reading skills in English. Classes are scheduled on Tuesday evenings from 6:30 to 8:30 pm.
Three classes were formed and designated as Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced. Classes are taught by BPS teachers including Powers who also teaches at Lane School, Matthew Brennan (BHS), Laura Villavroel (Lane School), and Amy O’Shea (Lane School.) Community volunteers include Ana Quaglioz, Kelly Korenak, Vikram Kumar, LiPing Chen (an ELL teacher in Lowell,) and Christine Smith.
Over the course of 14 weeks, the students will focus on developing listening, speaking, and writing skills. Volunteers will also assist in the classroom teaching. Funding for this initial program was made possible through a Title III grant. Title III is the part of the No Child Left Behind Act that authorizes funds for English language acquisition programs. Powers hopes to secure additional grant funding to continue the program beyond this initial phase.
During their third class session on February 5, the adult students were observed actively engaged in each of the three classrooms. They were learning to identify basic services one might find in their neighborhood in the Beginning classroom; learning the differences between pronouns and verb tenses and how to use them effectively in a sentence in the Intermediate classroom; and engaged in discussing and writing about personal family traditions in the Advanced classroom.
Assistant superintendent Mary Lou Sallee commented, “We are truly fortunate to have someone of the caliber of Carrie Powers to lead our ELL team. She is a very talented, experienced, and professional educator with strong leadership skills, a thorough understanding of the needs of English language learners, and a big heart.”
Powers accepted the position to become Bedford’s English Language Learner (ELL) Program Administrator in September, 2018. She has more than 30 years of experience teaching English Language learners. On March 6 she made a presentation to Bedford School Committee outlining the scope of Bedford’s ELL program for K-12 students, and the new pilot program for adults.
Jon Sills, Bedford Schools Superintendent, acknowledged and thanked Powers for her involvement and work on developing the SLIFE (Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education) program. SLIFE addresses the needs of students Grade 2 or above who may have limited or interrupted education as a result of being refugees from war torn countries and/or are seeking asylum or immigration status.
Powers reflected, “I’m gratified to be in a town like Bedford where the English language needs of both students and their families are recognized and taken so seriously. It is a pleasure and privilege for me to be able to work with such a talented group of academic professionals and volunteers working to meet their English language needs.”
A graduation ceremony for the adult students is scheduled for Tuesday, May 7. Bedford school students who are participating in ELL services will also be recognized.
If you are interested in volunteering to assist with this program, are interested in participating in the program, or know of a Bedford adult who would like to participate, please email Carrie Powers at [email protected]