Troy’s English Language Learner program helps students with English, feeling comfortable in schools

Troy City Schools English Language Learner Program Coordinator Wendy Grimm (left) works with Concord Elementary student Valentina Enriquez Aguiniga on a recent class lesson

TROY – When things get difficult for her students, Wendy Grimm wants to ensure they have a safe haven and a place that will make them feel comfortable in a new country.

“When students first start, we’ll give them cards they can give to the teacher, in case they may not be able to communicate with them using words,” said Grimm, the Troy City Schools English Language Learner District Coordinator. “They can give the teacher a card if they have to go to the bathroom. They also have a card that just says ‘ELL’ on it, which they can use to come to the ELL classroom if they need it. A lot of times, when they come to the ELL classroom, you can see the relief wash over them. They definitely feel more comfortable there.”

Troy’s ELL program, which helps non-English speaking students learn the language and find their way within the district’s schools, is expansive in both the sheer number of students who receive services and the breadth of languages they speak.

There are currently 182 students in the ELL program who are either actively participating in the program or have been exited from the program for less than two years and still receive some support. There are more than 30 languages spoken by Troy’s ELL students, the most prominent of which are Japanese, Spanish, Somali, and Gujarati, one of the 22 official languages and 14 regional languages of India.

“There are nearly 100 more students in the district who have been exited from the program for more than two years but who may still occasionally receive services,” Grimm said. “Once a student is part of the ELL family, they will always be a part of the ELL family!”

Unlike most other districts, Troy City Schools accept students with a broad spectrum of English language abilities, including some with almost no knowledge of the language.

“Our program is unique in the state of Ohio,” Grimm said. “In most other districts, students enter the United States with some background in conversational English. This is the case with about half of the ELL students who enroll at Troy Schools. The other half of the students who enroll with us are students who have very limited English, both conversationally and academically.

“All students in our program have services that are catered to their individual needs. We have some students who always stay in their general education classroom, receiving support from a member of the ELL team at some point during the school day. We have other students who work with our teachers in the ELL classroom in small groups, providing whatever they may need, from English lessons to help with homework and assignments.”

Working with so many students with so many different ability levels in the English language provides a challenge, Grimm said, but it’s one she and her team have tackled head-on over the years.

Our numbers are growing constantly,” Grimm said. “We have had an average of about two new students a week this school year. As new students enroll in our program, we adjust our schedules to ensure that they receive the help that they need. Our support changes based on the needs of each individual student, and those needs may change from month to month.

Our students work in groups based on their English ability levels rather than their native language. We have word-to-word dictionaries available in many languages, and our department uses translation programs to help ensure that our students understand their assignments, and we have a translation service that provides live translation in over 200 languages for communication with our families. Many people may not know this, but Class Dojo and Remind also translate messages between teachers and parents. Finally, we also have interpreters for our two most prominent languages, Japanese and Spanish. Naoko Sakumoto is the Japanese Translator for our district, and I provide Spanish translation. Amanda Ross also helps with Spanish translation at Van Cleve.”

Approximately 135 of Troy’s ELL students are in grades K-6. All these students attend Concord Elementary School regardless of where they live in the district. This allows the district to consolidate ELL teachers, aides, and other resources in one building. There are about 20 ELL students at Troy Junior High School and 25 at Troy High School.

With so many students and so many needs, it takes an entire ELL team to help Troy’s students. Grimm is the program coordinator, a Spanish translator, and an ELL teacher at Concord. Julie Forman is an ELL teacher at Concord. Ross is an ELL teacher at Concord and the Van Cleve Sixth Grade Building. Jess Nelsen is an ELL teacher at Troy Junior High School and Troy High School. Sakumoto is the district’s Japanese Translator. Krystal Lawson offers ELL support at Concord, and Christy Malone offers ELL support at Van Cleve, the junior high and high school.

Grimm said she and her team have a great understanding of how important the program is not only to the students but to their families.

“This program is important because we help transition new students and their families both to the school system and to the United States,” she said. “Schools in many other countries are structured much differently than in the United States. We sometimes need to research school structure and expectations in other countries to help new families understand the differences. We also try to work with staff members to bring cultural awareness and to ensure that our students feel that their cultures and beliefs are respected and represented in our schools.”