Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has signed Senate Bill 1014 into law, eliminating the controversial four-hour mandated block of English-language instruction (ELL) for English language learners in the state. ELL teachers now have more flexibility to tailor instruction to meet the needs of students.
The bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Michelle Udall, said that four-hour model just doesn’t work.
“We know that students learn a foreign language best when they are among native-speaking peers, and this gives them more opportunities to be among native-speaking peers from the state,” she told the House.
Supporters of the bill said keeping English language learners segregated for half the school day means they also do not receive enough instruction in other subjects, like math.
Arizona schools serve about 67,000 students considered English Language Learners (ELLs) each year. And how these kids learn a new language as well as their grade-level curriculum has been the subject of debate for decades. In a special edition of KJZZ’s ongoing series Inside Arizona Classrooms, reporters visited two schools for a closer look at why.
It was near the end of a March day in a classroom at Rainbow Valley Elementary in Buckeye, and a bunch of 5-year-olds were busy coloring and cutting out paper dolls shaped like George Washington — a sort of intro to American history.
Student Elizabeth Cordero deliberately colored in Washington’s hair and carefully cut around the tricky parts.
What other presidents does she know about?
“Uhhhh … Martin Luther King Jr.?” said Elizabeth.
While Elizabeth may not be able to name a president now, that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been learning a lot this year. Back in August, she and her classmates came to school speaking nothing but Spanish. Today, she can say almost all of what she thinks in English – thanks to her teacher, Bedelicia Reyna.
“From now to about April is when you really see a lot of growth, so this is the time of year when I really love my job,” Reyna said.
Reyna specializes in English Language Acquisition and has always taught kindergarten. She said they’re like little sponges that soak up her lessons, which are almost entirely in English.
“At the beginning of the year it’s very very hard because they don’t speak English, so a lot of the time I am speaking to them in Spanish, even though I’m not really supposed to,” she said.