English Language Education (ELE) at Sturgis

Overview of the English Language Education (ELE) program

At Sturgis, the ELE program is one of the ways we support linguistically and culturally diverse students.  Over the last couple years, the ELE program has been growing in order to meet the needs of our students and to find ways to learn about and connect with diverse communities around us.

As a program, we believe:

  • Students’ languages and cultures are valuable resources to be tapped and incorporated into schooling.
  • Students develop language proficiency in listening, speaking, reading, and writing interdependently, but at different rates and in different ways.
  • Students’ development of social, instructional, and academic content language, a complex and long-term process, is the foundation for their success in school and beyond.
  • All  students, regardless of cultural and linguistic backgrounds, have a right to equal education opportunities.
  • We are a resource for all teachers who aim to teach students effective ways to communicate in each specific discipline.

When the Sturgis English Learner Education (ELE) program started a few years ago, we focused on providing translation and interpreting services to families, as well as identifying current English Learners (ELs) and former English Learners (FELs) in order to monitor and support these students.  The number of English Learners (ELs) in Massachusetts has almost doubled since 2000, and the program at Sturgis has grown to include an English as a Second Language (ESL) class and Sheltered Content Instruction (SCI) in our content classes.  We have more Sturgis students who received explicit English language instruction in previous schools.  Perhaps their native language was not English, or they grew up in a home where more than one language was spoken.  Even if students no longer require explicit English language instruction, we monitor students, provide additional language support in content classes, and help to identify any additional accommodations that might be needed for the student.

The ELE department helps Sturgis teachers incorporate language development strategies in their classes that support English learners, former English learners, and all students.  We also support our teachers as they work towards becoming Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) endorsed by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The ELE program continues to identify families who need translation and interpretation services, find qualified individuals and companies who can provide those services, and work to ensure we communicate with families in the most appropriate language.  We provide translated report cards to families who request them, interpretative services at events such as parent-teacher conferences, use of a Language Line that allows for teachers and administrators to communicate directly with families who speak languages other than English.  In addition there are three language translation options on our website.

Outreach to communities and families is an important aspect the ELE program at Sturgis.  We are actively working to recruit linguistically and culturally diverse families to apply to Sturgis.  Students and families who have questions can contact Alyssa McClorey Timoh or Christine McDowell with questions (amccloreytimoh@sturgischarterschool.org or cmcdowell@sturgischarterschool.org) or look at the Sturgis website that has information for applying to Sturgis.

Who is the English Language Education Department?

Christine McDowell at the December EL Professional Development Session

Christine McDowell, co-English Learner Coordinator 

Christine helped grow the English Language Education (ELE) program at Sturgis a few years ago.  After majoring in sociology and business at Villanova University, she taught at a middle school in Brooklyn for two years where most students were from families who spoke a first language other than English.  Christine then taught English as a Foreign Language in South Korea and as a Peace Corps volunteer in China before returning to the U.S. to study International Educational Development at Teachers College, Columbia University.  Christine also teaches Theory of Knowledge (TOK) and helps to oversee the Creativity, Activity, and Service (CAS) program at Sturgis.

Alyssa McClorey Timoh, ESL teacher and co-English learner coordinator

Alyssa McClorey Timoh, far right

Alyssa earned her M.Ed in education from Harvard Graduate School of Education, along with a license to teach secondary history and ESL in Massachusetts; however, this is her first year teaching in a Massachusetts school.  She began her teaching career at a CASA middle school in the Bronx, NYC where she taught humanities and also coordinated testing for English learners.  During this time, she also volunteered as a coordinator for LEAP – a program focus on English language development in refugee camps in Lebanon. She wrote curriculum and managed volunteer teachers during the summer.  She also taught at Capital City Public Charter School in Washington DC where she worked closely with the EL coordinator to service several English learners, former English learners, and English learners with disabilities in her classes.  At Sturgis, Alyssa teaches ESL and helps coordinate the ELE program; in addition she works with the Special Education department in inclusion.

Populations and Languages at Sturgis   

Sturgis is working towards becoming more and more linguistically and culturally diverse by developing its English Language Education (ELE) program, actively recruiting students whose families speak languages other than English, and creating a school culture that is supportive of linguistically and culturally diverse students and faculty.

Each year, Sturgis administers a survey to all incoming families that gathers data on the languages spoken in the homes of our students.  The data from the 2016 home language survey revealed an increase in the number of languages spoken in the homes of our incoming class.  Spanish, French, and Portuguese are the most common languages spoken in the homes of our Sturgis students.  The students and families of the current 9th graders also speak: Chinese, German, Greek, Haitian Creole, Hindi, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Kazakh, Nepali, Polish, Russian, Swahili, and Tagalog.

Some of our students’ voices can be heard in the following videos and quotations. In the videos and quotations, the Sturgis students discuss their strengths and challenges as they adapted to schooling in the US and Sturgis; they offer advice to teachers with linguistically and culturally diverse students in their classes.

There are a lot of things that you think that I know because I speak English perfectly fine because I came here at a young age, so I don’t really have an accent, but there are a lot of words I still don’t know…some of the teachers I would advise to have a lot of patience with kids.” Ludjy, FEL

Sometimes students might feel silly that they speak another language so they won’t always ask questions because they probably feel shy I guess because they probably feel like students may make fun of them or the question will be too stupid I guess but just have more patience with the students.”  Ana, FEL

Sometimes the teachers, maybe they don’t know, they speak really fast…sometimes they forget that my getting that.”  Luiz, EL

Learning a new vocab is a lot harder than it seems.  And when learning in the classroom and you hear a new word, it gets harder because you just listen to the word and focus more on that vocabulary and it kind of like throws you off of the topic..you have to focus more on.”  Ana, FEL


Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) Program

In Massachusetts, districts are required to provide Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) to ELs until they are proficient in English.  Sturgis has adopted this model which includes two instructional components that are both necessary for comprehensive, effective instruction of ELs:  Sheltered Content Instruction (SCI) and English as a Second Language (ESL).  SCI, which takes place in the content classes, offers access to grade-level content while at the same time developing content-specific academic language.  ESL, which is its own class, offers systematic, explicit, and sustained focus on language and literacy.

Working on an essay that includes specific vocabulary and sentence structures in ESL class

Strategic opportunities to read and listen to as well as write and speak English are part of EL class each day. This course is intended to help students develop more academic English and feel supported in general education content classes.  We strongly value the skills and experience that our multi-lingual students bring to Sturgis, and in a small class environment we hope students build confidence and become self-advocates as they create their own unique experience at our school.

A day in English language class could include a vocabulary game with words pulled from the current model text we are reading in class, or a discussion and reflection about the learning in science class earlier in the day.  We might identify important grammatical structures in a persuasive text or practice using these structures in our own speaking and writing.

Sheltered Content Instruction

Sheltered Content Instruction (SCI) offers access to grade-level content as well as development of discipline-specific academic language.  In other words, qualified content teachers who are SEI endorsed support students’ English development by incorporating language instruction in their classes, bringing attention to particular language choices and uses, and raising the students’ consciousness about language.  At Sturgis, we believe that SCI can benefit both ELs and proficient English speakers.

As a department we work closely with teachers with ELs and former English learners in their classes.  Besides “pushing in” as active support in classes, we execute planning sessions to embed explicit language skills into lessons and units, think about the role of communication within each specific discipline, and create scaffolds such as graphic organizers or word banks for students.

Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) endorsement

Christine and Alyssa are working with teachers of English Learners (ELs) to learn Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) strategies for the classroom and become SEI endorsed.  An MTEL study group of teachers met during lunch, after school, and   the school day to read current research on English Learners, review Second Language Acquisition theories, study WIDA’s performance definitions, and learn successful practices for explicitly teaching and assessing reading, writing, listening, and speaking in their content classes.

The following quotes are from faculty members who participated in the study group:

This group allowed me to have a deeper understanding of ways to best support English Learners. There are so many terms and ideas to learn, but Alyssa and Christine designed a variety of learning experiences to help us develop common language and understanding related to supporting English Learners. I feel much better prepared now to take the SEI MTEL!     -Jenn Kirk, Sturgis West Principal

“As an English Language Arts teacher, I would recommend this study experience and SEI endorsement process to anyone interested in becoming a more effective educator. I walked away from this study group experience with a binder full of materials to study from and an eagerness to get back in the classroom and experiment with some new strategies.

I always imagined that I had to speak a second language in order to teach an English Learner; however, there are so many techniques and strategies that any teacher can use to give EL students an authentic learning experience without being in a bilingual classroom.  Looking at our students from a “strengths perspective” is a best practice everyone should follow, but this perspective plays an extremely significant role in the teaching of ELs.  

Not only do I have a better understanding about differentiating instruction for ELs, but I have brought many of the strategies and scaffolding into my every day teaching for all students. I now have a deeper understanding for making learning more  accessible to all students, whether they are members of a special population or not. Teaching students in a diverse, collaborative, mistake-friendly setting is where the most effective type of learning takes place.”     – Jen Walts, Sturgis West English

Sturgis is also applying to the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to become an approved provider of the Rethinking Equity and Teaching of English Language Learners (RETELL) Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) Endorsement course.  The SEI Endorsement course, a 46 hour course, aims to prepare teachers with the knowledge and skills to effectively incorporate SEI strategies into their content instruction so that ELs can access curriculum, achieve academic success, and contribute their multilingual and multicultural resources as participants and future leaders.  The SEI course is one pathway towards becoming SEI endorsed which is a requirement of all content teachers of ELs as well as all licensed teachers in Massachusetts.

Professional Development at Sturgis and Beyond

Culture and Identity Group at Sturgis

The ELE department believes strongly in honoring and valuing the diversity at our school.   In particular, through the newly created culture and identity inquiry group made up of Sturgis teachers and students, we aim to better get to know our students’ cultures and backgrounds, facilitate more conversations around culture, language, race, and ethnicity, and become more culturally competent as a school.

Any teacher, student or parent who is interested is welcome to join this group. Please email Alyssa amccloreytimoh@sturgischarterschool.org or Christine cmcdowell@sturgischarterpublicschool.org

EL Professional Development for East & West Faculty

On December 9th, 2016 Alyssa and Christine led a professional development workshop for East & West Faculty entitled “What can our ELs and FELs teach us?” with three main objectives:

  • Understand components of the English Language Education program at Sturgis
  • Analyze cultural and linguistic diversity in the Sturgis Community.
  • Listen to students who represent the cultural and linguistic diversity at Sturgis, and identify how to incorporate their experiences into teaching and learning practices.

The full PowerPoint of the EL Professional Development session is embedded below.

ELL PD Presentation – December 9, 2016

Massachusetts Charter Public School Association Southeast MA Cluster Working Group (CWG)

Last year, Sturgis participated in the Southeast MA Cluster Working Group meetings which were funded by a $2 million federal grant for English Language Learner/Special Education support.  This year, the focus of the upcoming three CWG meetings will be on ELL only and Sturgis West will host all three meetings. Sturgis is excited to host these meetings as representatives from nearby charter schools such as Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School in Harwich, Global Learning Charter School in New Bedford, South Shore Public Charter School, and Atlantis Charter School in Fall River will be coming together to learn ELL best practices, share curriculum, and analyze complex cases.

Other Professional Development Opportunities

The ELE department stays up to date on current EL initiatives, laws, policies, and regulations by participating in a number of professional development opportunities on the Cape and in Massachusetts.  We attend meetings of the MATSOL (Massachusetts Association of Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages) Cape and Islands Special Interest Group, Massachusetts Charter Public School Association (MCPSA) workshops, and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Low Incidence District and Charter Schools meetings.


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