Hartford Public Schools collaborated with Middlebury Interactive on a pilot program for 300 students in grades 4-8 for the 2014-2015 school year with an expansion of the program for the 2015-2016 school year.
Like many districts across the country, Hartford Public Schools was facing a big challenge in educating its non-native English speakers. With costs rising and student achievement falling short, district leaders, including Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez, looked for a new model to help close the ELL achievement gap.
The district collaborated with Middlebury Interactive on a pilot program for 300 students in grades 4-8 for the 2014-2015 school year—and the first-year success led to the district’s planned expansion of the program for 2015-2016. This innovative program is unique in many ways, but specifically since technology has rarely been used effectively to help boost academic performance for ELLs.
“We often talk about high rates of absenteeism among ELLs but what we’ve noticed in the eight pilot schools is excellent attendance—near 100 percent. That’s telling. It suggests a high level of engagement.”
The difference is that this comprehensive program blends rigorous digital curriculum, authentic materials and teacher training—and is based on extensive research by academic experts in second language acquisition. What’s more, the program encourages the students to integrate their own native culture with the one in their new home to create a multicultural learning experience that research shows is most effective.
The program was designed by Middlebury Interactive’s Ph.D.-level academics in direct collaboration with the district’s staff and teachers. Like Middlebury Interactive’s world language courses, the Hartford ELL program also emphasizes significant training and support for the ELL teachers, who are employees of the district.
The impact of the program was noted immediately by teachers and school leaders, particularly its effect on the learning culture at the participating schools. First of all, the students enrolled participating in the first year of the pilot saw overall achievement that outpaced the district’s general ELL population. But the success of the program has reached much deeper. High dropout rates and chronic truancy are common for ELL program since students often don’t believe they are gaining the English skills to succeed, especially in the academic setting. Even more of ELLs don’t see like a viable pathway to college success. But HPS reports that student attendance was near 100 percent and many students see college in their future for the first time in their lives.
“English Language Learners are like any other students: If you provide them with quality English instruction and create a demanding but supportive learning environment, they will rise to the challenge.”
As outlined by this feature on the program by Mind/Shift (NPR’s national education blog), the Hartford experience has proven that ELLs respond well to rigorous academics, high-tech instructional tools and a multicultural learning environment. Middlebury Interactive and sales partner FuelEducation are now offering ELL course to districts and schools across the country.