QUINCY — Iles freshman Rodolfo Rodriguez read aloud to learn more about Chris, Mark and John.

John is bad at making his bed. Mark is less good at making his bed. Chris is the worst at making his bed.

It’s a lesson in words that mean similar things and words that have more than one meaning – potentially confusing topics for any first-grader, but especially one who speaks Spanish, not English, at home.

Twice-weekly tutoring sessions with Sara Lepper, available through the Quincy Public Schools English Learning Program, help overcome the language barrier.

“She teaches me more,” Rodolfo said.

It’s hard to learn English ‘because there are some difficult words that maybe I don’t know’, Rodolfo said, but said it was much easier to speak and understand her second language now than last year in kindergarten.

Rodolfo’s teacher, Kathy Womack, who does not speak Spanish, worried at the start of the school year about how to communicate with him.

“He’s the first ELL student I’ve had in my 18 years of teaching,” Womack said.

“His language and knowledge of how words are put together has improved so much. He really understands this stuff even more than my kids who have always spoken English,” she said. “Having that extra layer support (from Lepper) is very helpful. We can work together to make improvements and see progress in the student’s language.

Helping students succeed in the classroom is a goal of the school district’s little-known ELL program, which serves 35 students so far this school year, up from 23 the previous two years, speaking nine languages.

“We are seeing a slight increase in the number of students entering and identifying as English language learners,” said Kim Dinkheller, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment at QPS. “The other thing we have seen change is the level of support needed for students arriving with limited English proficiency. More and more students arrive without English.

When the district’s existing curriculum didn’t meet all of the needs of an eighth-grader who spoke only Italian, Dinkheller began expanding the effort about four years ago, tapping into funding from the to support academics and other student needs – and their families – while raising awareness of ELL services.

What the program offers matters to ELL students – and to Quincy.

“As our community becomes more and more diverse, at public school we try to meet as many needs as possible,” said Lepper, who teaches nine K-5 ELL students this year as part of the program. “We must continue to accept diversity. We have a lot to learn from these children.

The Illinois State Board of Education defines English language learners as any K-12 student whose first language is a language other than English and whose fluency in English speaking, listening, reading, writing or understanding English is not yet sufficient. provide the student with:

  • The ability to succeed in classrooms where the language of instruction is English.
  • The opportunity to participate fully in the school environment.
  • The ability to achieve achievement skill level on Illinois State assessments.

Potential QPS ELL students are identified through a native language survey during enrollment and then go through a state-approved screening process for speaking, listening, reading, and speaking skills. writing.

Identified ELL students are connected to Mike McKinley, the QPS ELL liaison who works to determine students’ academic and social needs and develop an individual action plan that is reviewed annually. An annual English language proficiency status assessment determines if the student continues in the ELL program.

McKinley “is sometimes the first person we introduce a family to. He is able to translate for them,” Dinkheller said. “He goes above and beyond for our families. It connects them not only to QPS services, but to Quincy itself. »

Needs vary from student to student.

“Some come to us with very formal schooling, and then we had a student who moved from a very rural part of Mexico who didn’t go to school every day,” Dinkheller said.

Action plans for students who are not proficient in English may require a simple attempt to interact with the teacher at least once a day. Plans for more fluent students might involve asking questions to clarify something said in class.

Statistics show that ELL students entering first year with level one English comprehension may need six years to become proficient. “We came up with this plan knowing that they won’t get there in a year,” Dinkheller said.

McKinley connects students with their support team of QPS staff working to meet academic and socio-emotional needs – and often acts as a translator for families.

“They don’t know how to open a bank account here, how to get pediatrician services for their children. I go to dentist appointments with them, show them where in town to shop. If they don’t have a family network here, they’re pretty isolated,” McKinley said.

He checks in regularly with students and with families, and a quick burst of Spanish comes out of the phone as he speaks with Oralia Rincon, who has a son and daughter at Lincoln-Douglas and a daughter at QHS and has moved from Minnesota to Quincy for her husband’s work.

“The more I understand my role, the more I understand that I’m not doing enough of what needs to be done,” he said. “We need time to structure the competent and detailed program that will respond more quickly and better to these needs. We’re trying. We will get there. »

But there are plenty of positives, including seventh grader Megan Ortiz, who stops by McKinley’s room to say hello.

Ortiz moved to Quincy from Mexico last year barely speaking English and relying on a translator on his phone. A very determined student, with a very supportive family, McKinley says she excels at her work in the classroom and in her second language.

“What helped me mostly was studying on my own,” Ortiz said. “I feel like I’m adjusted. I started my own debate club at school. It’s going really well. I feel like I’m making progress. I don’t use the translator much anymore.

Another resource for ELL students are tutors like Lepper and Zach Bentley, who work with 6-12 students.

“My role is really to be the bridge between the home language and English,” Lepper said. “I really work on the nuances of our language – understanding metaphors, similes, to/two/too – and also helping them understand our culture. Parents want their children to be immersed in the culture here in the United States while also remaining true to their ancient culture.

Lepper uses the grade level program to work with Rodolfo and fourth grade Mia Ortiz-Malagon in Iles. “She teaches me new things that I didn’t know. I want to work with her more,” Mia said.

“All the kids have advanced at least through a full grade level this year and are doing very, very well,” Lepper said. “Kids have to realize, and I tell them all the time, they have such a gift. They will be perfectly at ease in two languages. This will be such an attribute as they age and enter the workforce.

At home, Rodolfo turns into a teacher, helping his parents learn English.

“My father and my mother cannot speak English. Everyone in my house speaks Spanish, so whenever my dad doesn’t know what to say to someone, I tell my dad what to say or my mom,” he said.

A translation function in SeeSaw allows Womack to communicate with Rodolfo’s mother, who does not speak English.

“I send her messages in English, but she can see them in Spanish. It helps a lot,” Womack said. “She tries very hard to learn it herself at home thanks to Rodolfo.”

Rodolfo focuses on English, not Spanish, at school, but Womack said his classmates find it “really cool” to hear his Spanish.

“It makes them curious,” she said. “They will count in Spanish to 10 to show ‘I can also speak a little Spanish.’ They think they’re pretty cool when they can say something that Rodolfo can say too.