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How the English as a Second Language Department is Adapting to Coronavirus

Unfortunately, Coronavirus has affected everyone’s lives in unique ways. Whether your classes are now online, your vacation was canceled or you lost someone close to you, everyone was forced to adapt to these unfamiliar circumstances. As a student, I understand my own perspective, but this week, I decided to interview an English as a Second Language aid, Donna Marino, to see how Corona affects teachers who rely on face-to-face interactions to teach their students.

Her Campus: How long have you been an English Language Learner (ELL) aid? Did you go to school for teaching or did you decide later in life that you wanted to teach?

Donna Marino:  I have been an ELL aid in the same school district for 14 years. I did not go to school specifically for ELL, but my school district has enabled me to go to many paraprofessional trainings and workshops. I also have learned a great deal from working with the ELL teachers at my school. 

HC: How does a student qualify to be entered into the ELL program at your school?

DM:  If a student speaks English as a second language in their home, then the first step is for the ELL teacher to set up an interview with the student’s parents. After that, the student takes a series of reading, writing and speaking tests that score the student’s ability in each section. If the student passes all sections of the tests, then the student doesn’t qualify for ELL help, but if the student scores are below the passing mark, then the student qualifies to have an additional ELL class which is a language arts class. The student is also supported within their classroom in their other academic subjects. 

HC: How many students did you have per grade pre-Corona?

DM: Every year is different depending on students leaving the ELL program and students coming in. Last year, I supported 32 students across elementary grades, kindergarten through 5th grade. 

HC: Before Corona, what did a normal work day look like for you?

DM: Before Corona, I would support all my ELL students in all their academic subjects by circulating through their individual classrooms and spending the appropriate amount of time with each of my 32 ELL students. 

HC: After Corona hit in the spring, did your school switch to fully online learning? 

DM: Yes, once Corona hit, our school switched to fully online learning. Some of the ELL students across our school district found online learning to be very difficult. Most of our lower level English Language Learners have more success learning with hands-on support to help them. 

HC: Did all of your students have the tools needed to complete online school efficiently?

DM: As I previously mentioned, it was difficult for some of our lower level ELL students with online learning. Many students needed to have district iPads sent to them. In addition, some students with poor WiFi connections were given hotspots. Online learning last spring was definitely a challenge in many areas. We took what we learned in the spring and applied it to this fall which has allowed us to be much more successful.  

HC: How are classes set up for this fall? What changes had to be made from a “normal” fall semester?

DM: All students in our district were allowed to choose between cyber learning or remote learning. The cyber learning consists mostly of recorded lessons and weekly meetings with selected students, and the remote learning is a combination of live and recorded lessons. If school was to reopen, the remote learners will come back to school in person and the cyber students will remain online. The ELL students I worked with were given the same two options. Some parents felt it was easier or possibly safer to choose cyber and remain online throughout the school year due to the pandemic. A third opportunity was given to 85 of the lower level ELL students from 10 elementary schools in our district. This was called the ELL Brick n Mortar program. I decided to work in the schools to help support this program. Now, I have 12 fifth grade ELL students with me in a classroom for the entire school day.  

HC: How did you have to adapt your job this fall to ensure that your students were obtaining a proper education?

DM: Because of the ELL Brick n Mortar program, I now only see 12 students a day as opposed to the 32 students I normally saw. However, these 12 students are lower level ELL and require much more individual attention than my previous students. Because I am not online, I am able to use visual aids and can easily instruct my students. This allows them to be more successful than when these ELL students were learning online at home in the spring. 

HC: In your opinion, which post-Coronavirus precautions will remain in place after Coronavirus is gone?

DM: That is a very good question. I believe that many teachers created thoughtful and detailed lesson plans using pre-recorded videos during online learning. I think many of these videos would be helpful to the students even when they are back to in-person learning. Videos allow the students to review the material on their own time and at their own pace, allowing them to better understand what they are learning.

HC: In your opinion, are your students learning as effectively as they would be in a “normal” learning environment?

DM: I would have to say that how effectively the student is learning really depends on the individual student. With online learning, the elementary students need to be more responsible for their own listening skills and be able to keep on task with their assignments. They also need to advocate for themselves when they need directions clarified. It is much harder for the teachers to see if a student is fully engaged and comprehending the lesson during a Zoom. In my opinion, the students themselves must take on some of the responsibility for their own learning while online.

HC: What is your biggest concern in regards to your students’ education during Corona?

DM:  My biggest concern in regards to the ELL students’ education during Corona is helping them be as successful as they can be. 

HC: What do you do to make your classroom feel as normal as possible for your students?

DM: I try to keep their routines as normal as possible. We hang up posters with their birthdays on it and celebrate on their day. On breaks from learning, we play games like Headbands and Red Light, Green Light. We also serve them breakfast and lunch every day. I know how confusing the pandemic can be for elementary students, so I want them to feel like they are in a safe, fun space. 

In schools across the country, teachers and professors are working to ensure that their students feel safe and comfortable in their classrooms. Be kind to your teachers as they work on adapting their curriculum into an online learning friendly format.

Ashley Marino

Delaware '21

Ashley is a Senior at the University of Delaware with a major in English and a double minor in Environmental Humanities and Public Policy. She is currently the Co-CC for the Udel chapter. She was previously a writer and an editor.
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