Part one of a series focusing on how the Cherry Creek School District is meeting the needs of all children.
Political and social oppression brought Nathan Changchen Ni’s family to the U.S. from China in 2014. His parents wanted to have a second child, which is prohibited in the world’s most populous country. Nathan was just seven years old when they arrived and he didn’t speak any English. He spent his first grade year at a Chinese immersion school in the U.S., where he became fluent in Mandarin, but learned little English. For second grade, Nathan’s family enrolled him at Homestead Elementary, where his skills in English and other subjects blossomed. Now a third-grader, he’s right where he should be academically.
“He’s performing at grade level in English and he’s really passionate about math,” said Olympia Frascone-Stefanski, an English Language Support (ELS) teacher at Homestead. “His depth and complexity of thought, his ideas and his desire to learn is just incredible. He’s a joy to work with.”
The Cherry Creek School District uses a co-teaching model to support its nearly 6,000 English language learners, who come to the district from more than 100 countries and speak more than 130 languages. Instead of pulling students out of their regular classrooms for support in English language acquisition, English Language Support teachers work in the classrooms, hand-in-hand with classroom teachers.
“The classroom teachers and I plan weekly and design lessons that provide access to grade-level content,” Frascone-Stefanski said. “We think about each child as an individual learner and where they are and what stage of language acquisition are they at. We also look at what their interests are and what we know about them as people and as learners and incorporate all of that into instruction that targets their needs.”
The co-teaching model has helped Nathan and hundreds of other students, including Hala Al Khalili. Her family came to the U.S. from Jordan through a Visa lottery in 2012, seeking better educational opportunities for Hala, who is now a fourth-grader, and her older brother, who is now in college.
“It was scary because I was in kindergarten and I only knew how to speak six words in English: hi, hello, how are you, goodbye,” recalls Hala, whose native language is Arabic. Because of her limited English, her first years of school were frightening and frustrating, but when Hala transferred to Cherry Creek Schools, enrolling first at Village East Elementary and now Coyote Hills Elementary, things improved dramatically.
“The moment I started with Ms. Kogul-Barnett, I thought this was just going to be easy!” Hala said.
ELS teacher Rachel Kogul-Barnett co-teaches with Hala’s classroom teacher Cody Lewis. Their partnership ensures that all students, including linguistically diverse learners like Hala, have equitable access to learning opportunities that accelerate their social and academic English, provide access to grade level content and increase their overall achievement.
Along with classroom teachers and ELS teachers, the district’s Language Supports & Services (LSAS) team includes cultural liaisons who provide interpretation and translation services, so parents who do not speak English can communicate with their children’s teachers and schools.
The results of those efforts have been impressive.
“Our English language learners are excelling,” said Dr. Holly Porter, director of Language Supports & Services for Cherry Creek Schools. “The Cherry Creek School District is among the top 10 districts for highest growth and achievement in the state of Colorado.”
Cherry Creek Schools received the first English Language Proficiency Act (ELPA) Excellence District Award from the Colorado Department of Education last year. The award recognizes Cherry Creek Schools for offering evidenced-based English Language Proficiency programs that achieve the highest English language and academic growth among English learners and the highest academic achievement for English learners who transition out of the English language proficiency program.