It is an exciting time, as a parent, to anticipate the start of your child’s formal education, beginning with kindergarten. If you live in Fairfax County, you’ll receive a pile of different forms to complete as part of the registration process, from School Lunch Forms to Emergency Information Forms to what’s called the Home Language Survey. This form is used to identify all language minority students in Fairfax County. A language minority student is defined as any student whose native or first-acquired language is other than English, or a student who resides in a home where a language other than or in addition to English is spoken. Indicating more than just English language in the home, identifies your child as eligible to receive Special Services related to English as a Second Language instruction (ESOL).
Children from families in which English is not the first, or only language, in the home, represent a rapidly increasing percentage of students enrolled in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS). Of the 170K+ students (elementary, middle, and high school) enrolled in FCPS, 12.3% of all these students were receiving some level of ESOL instructional support. The goal is to increase English proficiency and academic skills, and to create a supportive learning environment that builds upon the student’s linguistic and cultural background.
Over the last few years, Fairfax County has seen an increase in the number of students who require ESOL instructional support, and FCPS has responded by ensuring that teachers, aides, and administrators are trained to work with students who have limited English proficiency. The level of ESOL instructional support that a student might receive depends on a variety of factors. For example, students who enter FCPS with strong academic preparation in their native language that equals or surpasses their peers will have very different ESOL needs than students who have little or frequently interrupted educational experiences. Also students who have grown up in a primarily English speaking household and whose native language is english, even though a second language is spoken in the home, will receive some basic evaluative services or reading support.
ESOL programs can usually accommodate students from different language backgrounds in the same class, and teachers do not need to be proficient in the home language of the student for the program to be successful. At the elementary school level, ESL pull-out is the most commonly used education structure. Students spend part of the school day in a mainstream classroom, but are pulled out for a portion of each day to receive instruction in English as a second language. In addition, wrok is sometimes done with the student in the mainstream classroom. Depending on the population of the school, ESOL instruction may be provide by a full-time ESL teacher, or a part-time teacher may travel between different schools. Instruction may include group or individual sessions. If your child is in ESOL, ask for a meeting with the ESOL teacher to better understand how your child is being evaluated, the frequency of ESOL instruction, and the type.
Fairfax County offers immersion programs known as Two-Way Immersion, Dual Language Immersion or Partial Immersion. Depending on the school and its local demographics, the Spanish Immersion programs will assign up to 50% of its student classroom slots to language minority students (native Spanish speakers)while the remaining spots are filled with language majority (English-speaking) students. Instruction is provided in both English and Spanish, and science and mathematics are taught in Spanish, while all other topics are taught in English. Native English speakers and native Spanish speakers have the opportunity to acquire proficiency in a second language while continuing to develop their native language skills. Students serve as native-speaker role models for their peers. Students are usually taught by two different teachers. Students in this program may receive ESOL support if deemed appropriate.
Both types of programs enable language minority students to develop academic skills while learning English, but the best program for your student will be the one that best meets the linguistic, academic, and affective needs of your child, and allows him/her to progress through school at a rate commensurate with his/her peers.