Supporting Bilingual and Bi-Cultural Children in Washington Heights

FYI’s Director of Academic Programs, Wendy Peña, recently participated in a panel discussion hosted by the National Afterschool Association about ways that afterschool programs like FYI can help close the achievement gap between native English speakers and English language learners, also known as ELLs. As a provider of afterschool programs in Washington Heights, FYI is playing a big role in supporting these students’ academic and social-emotional needs. In the school district where FYI is located, 30% of students are ELLs, compared with 13% citywide. In fact, our school district ranks highest citywide in percentage of ELLs, and highest in percentage of new immigrant students. 

The panel, comprised of national experts in the fields of education and afterschool, made the following recommendations. You can also read the synopsis of the panel here where you will find a link to view the full Google Hangout conversation on YouTube.

Tips for supporting English Language Learners in afterschool: 

  • Provide ELLs with opportunities to speak in their home language. This creates an environment where the focus is on ELLs social and emotional needs, provides a sense of belonging and safety, and helps them to acclimate to a new country. 
  • Hire teachers in the afterschool program who understand the lives of ELLs, or are from immigrant families themselves. 
  • Pair students with language partners. Whenevr possible, it is helpful to have a students with similar English language proficiency working together.
  • Provide ELLs with opportunities to speak in their home language, which honors students' culture.
  • Afterschool programs designed with ELLs in mind can encourage English language production in a low-stakes environment as well as help them to develop academic language.
  • Aftershcool programs can create opportunities for ELLs to learn about the U.S. through activities such as mock debates, elections, and field trips.
  • Combine funding sources, such as Title III and funds for migrant families to be able to provide wraparound services for students.