The methods used to teach English as a Second Language have changed dramatically in the past 10 years.
Alessio Evangelista, supervisor of the county's English as a Second Language program, said a great deal of research has gone into finding and using effective ways to teach English. Instructors no longer focus on vocabulary lists and grammar rules.
"Language is best learned through its application," he said. "Rather than create lists, we use words in context. We use language in real situations."
For example, students begin to understand English better when they have the opportunity to talk about items in the classroom and how they are used. "We personalize it," he said.
Evangelista, a native of Italy who had to learn English when he first came to the United States in 1954, said the school system has come up with innovative courses to accommodate the influx of ESL students. Teachers Kathleen Dugger and Shelley Jollimore have teamed up to create health and driver's education curricula that the other schools could adopt. The courses give students a semester, rather than six weeks, to learn the subjects. Guilford School Principal Deborah Cookus and her teachers have devised a reading program that provides a smaller teacher/student ratio and a new approach to teaching reading.
"For persons who come from another country and their alphabets are different, it's a double challenge learning to read," Evangelista said.
THE FOCUS of all of the ESL programs is on listening, speaking, reading and writing. The greatest emphasis is on reading, because it is essential for a student to use that skill in all subjects.
Once a student is moving toward the "monitored" level, an ESL teacher may go into a class, such as science, and rephrase some of the language and interpret what is being said to help the student understand the words and content. "The ESL student has to work harder," he said. "The good news is most of them succeed."
ESL teachers use four approaches: repeat, restate the same concept with a different perspective, rephrase using different words and simplify.
"Our task is to help them learn English as quickly and well as possible," Evangelista said.
Evangelista said the majority of ESL students become proficient enough to move onto successful lives.
The school system also provides evening ESL classes for parents.
THE LOUDOUN public school system is expanding its sites. Everyone who is eligible receives services, but schools with a small portion of students send them to a "center" or a school with a bigger ESL population. For example, Ashburn Elementary and Hillside Elementary send students to Sanders Corner Elementary School, a "center." A school with 20 to 25 ESL students might be big enough to qualify as a "site" and offer its own services rather than send students to other schools.