Somerville schools beat state to the punch

On November 17, 2011, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

Gov. Deval Patrick unveiled an update to his plan to bridge the achievement gap.

Summer ELL in Somerville

By Andrew Firestone

Last week at UMASS Boston, Gov. Deval Patrick unveiled an update to his plan to bridge the achievement gap. Included was a plan to bring Summer England Language Learner camps to cities around the commonwealth.

Somerville Public Schools already has a program. While not among the list of INC Mass “Gateway Cities” such as Fall River and Chelsea, the Somerville Program for English Language Learners (SPELL). Funded by federal Title III funds by the state, SPS uses SPELL to help its large ELL populations.

“It’s an enhancement of our ELL skill development,” said Superintendent Anthony Pierentozzi. “We recognize that students who don’t speak English certainly don’t read English and don’t go through educational activities in the summer have a loss of learning or a slide back.”

Run by ELL department head Dr. Susan Davila, the program includes classes for both elementary and high school students built around using language in conversational settings and culture immersion.

Davila detailed that the elementary school class includes many trips out into the community, including to the Boston Globe and Duck Tours. Their classes include writing, oral language practices and intensive reading. They also take more nearby trips to the fire station and the post office.

TheaterSpell, the high school version, allows ELL students to work on playwriting, culminating in a performance after the month-long period.

Davila said that the more programs like Spell implemented across the state, the better. “The more opportunities that English Language Learners have, the more they will benefit,” she said.

Representative Carl Sciortino said the Governor’s plan was a smart one, in “putting forward aggressive proposals to address that population.”

“For classroom teachers with a large percent of students whose first language is not English, it takes a lot of that teacher’s time and energy in the classroom to meet the needs of those students,” he said

Sciortino added that ballot initiatives in 2002 that had prohibited bilingual education in the state had caused public schools around the Commonwealth to struggle to meet the needs of the students.


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