Perry Township students, staff work together to help ELL students succeed

PERRY TOWNSHIP, Ind. (WISH) — Students and teachers in Perry Township are working together to come up with new ways to help students who are learning English for the first time.

The district on the south side of Indianapolis has seen a steady increase in their refugee population over the past several years, and teachers and administrators have adjusted over the years as well.

Perry Township data shows a steady, if not sharp, increase in their refugee population from 2007 to 2016. Data shows that in the 2007-2008 school year, the district had 341 refugee students.

In January of 2016, the district now has 2,545.

Refugee students make up more than half of their English language learners in the district, which as of January totaled 4,363.

In 2007-2008, there were 1,177 ELL students in Perry Township.

“We have about 66 different languages spoken in Perry Township. We work hard to make sure that we have resources in place to support families, to make sure they’re aware of what educational opportunities they have here,” said Jane Pollard, Perry Township Schools Administrator for ELL and Professional Development. “Sometimes these students come to us with limited education experience, or sometimes interrupted education experience that leaves them with gaps in their learning. One of our jobs as teachers is to identify those learning gaps, and put the resources in place to catch them up.”

Both students and teachers have been creative in the ways they work together to help newcomers, as they call new students, feel comfortable.

The latest push has been with the help of a newly formed International Ambassadors Club at Perry Meridian High School.

“I remember when I first came here, it was hard to tell the nurse when I felt sick,” said Bawi Ring, a senior at Perry Meridian High. “These will really help other students.”

Ring and other students helped create multiple booklets for the nurses office, that show common phrases you may say to a nurse, in different dialects spoken in the district, along with a picture.

It’s already helped, they say, keep students from having to wait for a translator.

And that’s not the only project in the works for students.

“There’s a real push this year with our new homerooms,” said Perry Meridian EL teacher Kelly Harmon. “We’ve been trying to work on new projects, so right now, we’re getting ready to start a project, an orientation or a welcome packet that we can give to new students. It shows them how to open their locker, shows them pictures of the different places in the school, labeling them with their language, and also will have other important information translated for them, so they don’t get overwhelmed and confused and they’ll have something tangible to navigate their first few days or weeks at school, so that’s our next project.”

That’ll be a big help, students say, because those first few days can be overwhelming.

“I was born in a country called Burma. I came here in 2010, June 17,” explained Ring. Ring remembers back to his first day in seventh grade at Southport Middle School.

“I can’t find classes, I can’t open locker, I can’t even find the bathroom,” Ring said laughing. He says it was the teachers and faculty who helped him through.

“Our teachers are wonderful at individualizing the learning needs. We feel it’s our job as students walk in the door to find out what the unique gifts are they bring with them, to find out what challenges are in their learning, and to match up resources so that we get best we can out of every child in Perry,” said Pollard.

“I really love these students,” said Harmon. “They all come from such varied backgrounds. They’ve been through so much, they’ve experienced so much, and they come here, thrown into high school, they don’t know English. They’re all just such brilliant kids trying so hard, and they all are so thankful to be here and they work so hard to do well in school. I’m just passionate about helping them to reach those goals and those dreams that they have for when they did come over here: everything they want to achieve.”

Dreams that are entirely attainable.

“After high school, I plan to go to college at Ivy Tech,” said Ring. “I want to be a police officer.”

2015 statistics from the Indiana Department of Education show 21.63 percent of students in Perry Township were English Language Learners, which includes all ELL students, not just the refugee population.

Pike Township had 18.12 percent, Lawrence Township: 12.99 percent, Warren Township: 7.99 percent, Washington Township: 15.17 percent, Wayne Township: 15.95 percent, and IPS had 15.64 percent ELL students.

Enlace Academy, a public charter school in Indianapolis, had 57.43 percent ELL students in 2015.

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