Forest Municipal School District’s (FMSD) English Learner (EL) population is growing rapidly, now surpassing 40%, serving more than 620 identified EL students. In response to this growth and in an effort to enhance its Post-Covid Return-to-School Plan, FMSD implemented strategies for the 2021-2022 school year specifically designed to target this population of students. The enhanced approach included hiring an EL Curriculum Coordinator, implementing new EL instructional programs, establishing a new student club, hiring additional EL teachers/staff, and awarding students who exit the EL program before graduation with graduate cords.
The FMSD EL Curriculum Coordinator, Shelley Silvas, brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in serving EL students. She serves as the district liaison who is instrumental in helping EL students bridge the gap between language acquisition and acquiring grade-level content knowledge.
Silvas developed the high school EL programs at Pascagoula High School and Biloxi High School before coming to Forest Municipal School District. She has 15 years of experience working with EL students, and has presented at the SETESOL Regional Conference.
“Many classroom teachers want to help EL students in their class, but they are not sure how. My goal is to help teachers discover best practices to use with EL students in the mainstream classroom,” explained Silvas.
Though all teachers and staff work with EL students in some capacity, FMSD has specific staff members who exclusively service the EL population of students: 1 certified EL teacher, 5 EL teacher assistants, and 4 mainstream teachers dedicated to instruction in one or more EL classes. In keeping with FMSD’s commitment to equitable instruction for their EL students, they have added additional TESOL certified teachers.
During the 2022-2023 school year, FMSD will have 6 certified TESOL teachers, 6 EL teacher assistants, and 2 mainstream teachers that will have a dedicated EL class. Silvas’s role also includes, but is not limited to, training EL teachers and staff, providing resources, working with teachers to create engaging lessons, and data collection and analysis.
In addition to adding to the EL staff, the Hispanic English Learners Program (H.E.L.P. Club) was established at Forest High School during the 2021-22 school year. The H.E.L.P. Club has as its mission to build student character through serving others. This is an opportunity for Hispanic students to increase their leadership skills and to be more visible in their school community. For the first year of establishment, the H.E.L.P. Club inducted 12 members and completed several projects: Campus Clean-Up, Thanksgiving Food Drive (baskets were donated to 2 families in Forest), and Bilingual Peer Tutoring.
The FMSD is also announcing that 60.9% of Forest Elementary 3rd graders received a passing score last month on the initial administration of the 3rd-grade reading gate for the 2021-22 school year. The passing rate presents a preliminary snapshot of 3rd-graders’ literacy proficiency as schools emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic. The last time Mississippi 3rd graders took the assessment in a normal school year was April 2019 when 68.1% of Forest Elementary students passed the initial test.
“Considering our population of EL students has increased 5% district-wide since 2019 in addition to the obstacles we had to overcome due to the pandemic, I applaud the hard work of the administrators, teachers, students, and families. Even though we are not where we want to be, to see that our initial pass rate on this year’s third grade reading gate had less than a ten percent difference from the pass rate prior to the pandemic lets me know that we have the potential to move above and beyond for the upcoming school year. As test results come in this summer, we will be using our data to set goals and make decisions for the 2022-23 school year,” said Dr. Karen Norwood, FMSD superintendent of education.
Based on the Literacy-Based Promotion Act (LBPA), 3rd graders who do not pass the initial administration of the reading gate are given up to two attempts to retest. The FMSD is committed to accommodate the growing population of EL students and will continue to be a district that is learner-centered and equity-focused.
In final words, Dr. Norwood states, “We look forward to being able to share the results that our EL students have worked so hard to achieve as soon as the state allows us to share and the embargo is lifted.”