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Report highlights David Douglas district’s success with dual language learners

Voice-For-All.New-America-cover“David Douglas is dreaming big – and implementing well – when it comes to helping dual language learners succeed.”

So says a new report from the New America Foundation’s Dual Language Learner National Work Group that is all about lifting up lessons learned at the David Douglas School District in southeast Portland.

The number of students who speak a language other than English at home – or dual language learners – in districts across the country is increasing rapidly, prompting the need for new and better models to serve these students. In the David Douglas School District, where students speak more than 70 different languages, this need was especially pronounced. The district developed and implemented a unique instructional model – instead of pulling dual language learners out of class to work on English-language skills, the district’s model, called English Language Development, ensures that all students, dual language learners or not, receive 30 minutes of English language instruction each day.

The model has been extremely successful. In fact, last year David Douglas was one of only eight districts in Oregon to meet state and federal expectations for dual language learners’ progress and proficiency in language development.

Conor P. Williams, director of the Dual Language Learner National Work Group and one of the report’s authors, says New America chose to write about David Douglas because it wanted to share a model from a district successfully serving a multi-lingual population.

Maria Adams is the language development specialist at Earl Boyles, a David Douglas elementary school featured in the report and one of the sites of the Early Works initiative. She explains how the district arrived at its dual language learner – or DLL – model.

“There were too many different languages spoken here to do the usual DLL model of pulling kids out of class,” she says. “Our option was to teach all students the language skills they need to be successful socially and academically.”

Williams says that what David Douglas and Earl Boyles can teach other education leaders goes beyond a good model or well-thought-out strategies.

“They’re not just exploring lots of different ways to help these kids; they’re extraordinary implementers,” he says. “They’re trying to do things that are a challenge for teachers. Not impossible, but large enough to really have impact for the kids.”

This impact is clear to Earl Boyles principal Ericka Guynes, who oversees the implementation of the English Language Development model at her school. Earl Boyles also has preschool for three- and four-year-olds and a robust family engagement strategy through the Early Works initiative, adding to the impact. “Kids in kindergarten are coming in at higher levels of language skill because of early vocabulary exposure,” she says. “Even non-dual language learners are increasing their entering language level.”

Last week, Guynes and Adams traveled to Minnesota with the Children’s Institute’s Early Works Site Liaison Andreina Velasco to share their strategies at a meeting of the Dual Language Learner National Work Group. Specifically, they shared how effective the David Douglas model has been because it mainstreams language development.

“It’s something that all of our students need, even the small percentage that don’t fall into the dual language learner or poverty categories,” says Adams.

An important lesson of the Early Works initiative at Earl Boyles has been the impact that preschool and engaging early with families have for dual language learners.

“It’s the instruction and the family engagement components together,” says Velasco. “Especially if the family speaks a language other than English, we can meet them where they’re at from the beginning.”

Check out the report to learn more about the David Douglas model, its implementation at Earl Boyles, and the lessons for other school districts grappling with how best to serve dual language learners. You can also take a look at EdWeek’s coverage of the report and two others published alongside it about serving dual language learners in San Antonio and Washington, D.C.

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