Walking into the Hilton in downtown Austin today, I was excited to take on another day at this year’s SXSWedu conference. For my first session I had the chance to go to a panel discussion called “Crossing the Language Divide to College Readiness.” The panel was made up of three important voices in the conversation about English Language Learners (ELL) and how to make ELL education relevant and helpful to put students who are non-native English speakers on a path to college.
Bill Madigan, a teacher at Steele Canyon Charter High School, shared his insight from spending years in the classroom and teaching many ELL students. Early in his career, he taught an ELL zero-hour class at 6:30 am and shared how many of the other staff members at his school discounted these ELL students and thought they couldn’t succeed. In this class, he said that he learned “especially how to deal with the social and emotional part of [ELL students] not feeling part of the school, and also feeling that they can’t make it.”
Magaly Solis is a first-generation college student at the University of Texas at Austin, who spoke Spanish as her first language and learned English beginning in elementary school. She said the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program at her high school helped her realize that going to college was a realistic goal she could achieve with perseverance and the support of her peers.
While the last panelist, Eddy Diaz, was also the first in his family to go to college, his story was unique in that he moved to the United States in eighth grade with no knowledge of English. Much of his success in learning English came from his ability to speak up and not be afraid to make mistakes, which he offered as advice to any English language learners hoping to improve their language skills.
I took away from this panel that there’s a lot to be done to make ELL education relevant and interesting for students no matter their English level, but supportive educators who are willing to adapt and really get to know their students can be successful in helping their students prepare for college and the future.
Logan Kramer attends the Liberal Arts and Science Academy (LASA) in Austin, Texas