Found in translation: ESOL students’ journey to graduation


While planning his research paper, sophomore Jordan Thomas consults his textbook. Photo by Grace Gillen

Grace Gillen

    The page refreshes once again and bathes the student’s face in an eerie white glow. As the clock ticks forward to 12am, it is finally time for them to see the results of their hard work. In the days and weeks following a college entrance test, all but the most confident students eagerly await their scores, either from College Board or ACT. Senior Estefani Galves was no exception. And after multiple tries, she finally achieved a high enough score to apply for local colleges, all the while facing the difficult task of English acquisition.

    This is what success looks like in the ESOL, or English as a Second Language, program. According to teacher Janice Tonger, it’s something incredible to witness firsthand.

    “When Estefani told me [her scores] I felt my heart swell with pride for her,” Tonger said.

    But research by the Philadelphia Education Research Consortium has shown that this is no easy task. According to an NPR article on the topic, students whose home language was Spanish were considerably less likely to reach proficiency in English through schooling alone than any other subgroup.

    There is no conclusive answer to this phenomenon but teachers do their best to make sure students receive all the tools they need to reach success in high school and beyond.

    “We screen students for the program as soon as they enroll,” ESOL paraprofessional Jane Caulderon said. “From there they are placed in a English support class and given the appropriate accommodations.”

    The accommodations, which are a part of the policies included in education curriculum, can range from increased time on exams to individualized instruction plans or even alternative assignments.

    “All teachers are required to have basic training in ESOL strategies but beyond that it’s really up to how much they are willing to engage with the students to promote that success we’re looking for,” Caulderon said.

    In order to achieve this, there has to be a commitment from both students and teachers involved. The only way a learning environment can be successful is by creating a common ground.

    “Normally we speak English during instruction time, but if there is a situation where something isn’t being understood, students take time to work on helping each other translate as well,” Tonger said.

    As with any other student at University, the ultimate goal is to walk across that stage in orange with your classmates. That moment, that symbol of an accumulation of four years of work, is made even more significant when it includes learning English as well.

    “For the ones who do make it to graduation, it’s a huge accomplishment because they have dedicated so much more time and effort into their studies than the average general education student,” Caulderon said.

    Even though this year Estefani Galves might not be walking in orange, to those who know her story, it’s more about the journey to get there than the actual destination.

    “Being able to see students progress over the years is more rewarding than I will ever be able to put into words,” Tonger said. “Especially once they begin to realize their own potential to learn and make a change.”