Hartford English Language Learners Program

Summer Fun: A New Language Acquisition Model for English Language Learning Students

A new summer ELL program provides middle school students with an innovative approach to language acquisition and cultural understanding

August 19, 2014

As the number of immigrant families in the United States increases significantly each year, educators often struggle with the problem of providing adequate language instruction for the ever-growing population of non-native, English Language Learners (ELL). 

According to an article by the National Education Association, there are approximately five million ELL students enrolled in public schools across the nation, a number that has doubled over the past 15 years. “By 2015, ELL enrollment in U.S. schools will reach 10 million and, by 2025, nearly one out of every four public school students will be an English Language Learner,” the article states.

Furthermore, the old model of educating ELL students clearly isn’t working, as more and more students are being let down by an antiquated and underfunded ELL system.  Fortunately, there is another approach that employs proven language learning principals and emphasizes using the English language in real-world settings outside the traditional classroom.

Thanks to a Gateway Cities Grant from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, this summer Middlebury Interactive partnered with three Massachusetts cities, Chelsea, Lynn and Taunton, to create ELL academies modeled after our engaging and popular Middlebury-Monterey Language Academy for world languages. Gateways Cities are small- to mid-size cities that tend to have larger immigrant populations.

We started this new approach to ELL education in the summer of 2013, when we partnered with the Lynn Public Schools to create a pilot program for 29 middle school students. Middlebury Interactive worked closely with Lynn teachers and administrators to build the course curriculum, which included field trips to different community sites to put what they were learning to practical use. These activities reflected the culture, economy and history of Lynn and Eastern Massachusetts, including a tour of Fenway Park, an Essex River cruise and lessons on Lynn’s role in the growth of the region’s shoe manufacturing industry.

The Lynn language academy proved to be highly successful—through student feedback and assessments—in improving language skills and fostering an understanding of local culture. Furthermore, it gave students a taste of higher education through an overnight campus visit to Endicott College. In fact, many of the students credited the academy and Endicott visit for helping them realize that college was a tangible goal.  

Additionally, the Lynn language academy received strong support from the Lynn community and political leadership, including Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy. She called the Lynn academy “a shining example of what can be achieved with true, meaningful partnerships.” Lynn’s superintendent, Dr. Catherine Latham, said that the Lynn students were “not only gaining valuable English-language skills, they are also experiencing a variety of enrichment opportunities that will serve them well as they advance in school.”

Similar to the Lynn language academy, this year’s new Taunton academy’s project-based curriculum included both digital components and field trips to local educational and cultural destinations, like the Wetlands Wildlife Sanctuary, the Rhode Island School of Design, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Woods Hole and a Pawtucket Red Sox baseball game. The new Chelsea academy included visits to the Boston Museum of Science, Bell Island Marsh, Fenway Park and a Duck Boat Tour.   

The Taunton and Lynn academies fostered a similar energy and excitement among students, teachers and the community that we saw in Lynn over the past two summers. “We are always looking for new ways to reach non-native English speakers and we were attracted by Middlebury Interactive’s integration of language and culture, as well as the success of the Lynn academy last year,” said Chelsea Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Linda Breau. “We believe this summer academy will help more Chelsea students become better prepared for academic and career achievement.”

The program also focuses on providing intensive teacher training and reaches out to the parents of ELL students, offering them free access to Middlebury Interactive’s online adult ESL resources to improve their own English skills. 

Middlebury Interactive plans to work with Chelsea, Lynn and Taunton again next summer and would welcome the opportunity to partner with other school districts in Massachusetts and beyond. In addition, we are rolling out a comprehensive new ELL program in Hartford, Connecticut, this fall that blends the academy approach with digital courses for the classroom.

Thanks to this revolutionary approach to English language acquisition, Middlebury Interactive’s CEO Jane Swift has a “renewed hope that we are starting to see new ELL strategies emerge that take advantage of innovative new tools and put a premium on cultural understanding.”

Ryan Hunt
Having recently relocated to Vermont from sunny California, Ryan joins the Middlebury Interactive Languages team as the Digital Marketing Manager. After ten years in the electronic entertainment industry having worked on some of the videogame industry’s top franchises, Ryan brings his passion for technology and product marketing expertise to the Middlebury Interactive team. In his spare time, Ryan, his wife and one year old daughter enjoy spending time outdoors and sampling some of the Green Mountain State’s finest local eateries.
New Approach Needed for English Language Learners But, Everyone Speaks English! Summer Fun: A New Language Acquisition Model for English Language Learning Students Hartford English Language Learners Program