Shelton Schools’ Program Helps English Language Learners Excel

Article from CTPost, August 28, 2019
by Brian Gioiele

Summer school is not just for students anymore.

Teachers from throughout the area gathered Tuesday, Aug. 20, in Shelton once again for the third annual Summer Institute sponsored by the ExcEL Leadership Academy (the capitalized E and L stand for English Learners; students whose families speak a language other than English at home).

“The ExcEL Leadership Academy is a grant-funded project that highlights Shelton public schools’ leadership role in the region,” said school Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet. “We recognize that our students, all of them, want to master English. The techniques we work on and share are helpful for recent arrivals as well as all students.”

In all, more than 100 educators, mostly from Shelton but also including participants from Norwalk, New London, and a few districts in New York state, were at the first sessions Aug. 20, working on subjects ranging from teaching techniques to understanding students who have suffered trauma in their lives to a round-table discussion with students who are recent arrivals in this nation.

A group of 15 educators from Shelton received the first ExcEL micro-credentials for their work in reaching the highest standards and demonstrated competence through evidence of improved classroom practice and student outcomes. Clouet said Shelton is among the first in the state to offer such credentials.

“ I am so proud of our teachers, our students and their families,” added Clouet. “In Shelton, we are serious about preparing our youth for the future.”

Shelton High School 2017 graduate Natalia Rodriguez, currently enrolled at the University of Connecticut, presented a keynote address on Tuesday, Aug. 20

“I would never have imagined that someday I would be speaking to over one hundred people,” said Rodriguez. “I was shy and embarrassed about my English, but thanks to (ESL teacher Maria) Zampano, who was ‘my angel,’ I am more ready than ever to be successful.”

Clouet, who first learned about this program while he was at Brown University, made the decision to make it part of the Shelton school district upon his arrival. The superintendent said the district has been able to obtain prestigious grants along the way to cover the costs of this program.

The program is designed to provide teachers with a “special set of tools” for students “compete in the global society,” according to Clouet, adding that many of the skills the instructors learn through the program can also be used with all students.

“This lifts all students,” said Clouet.

Clouet said instructors also work closely with parents so they can, too, become an important part of the school community.

ExcEL partners include the Plumb Library, the Boys & Girls Club and UCLA Center X.

“Seeing the Excel work find a home in Shelton, driven by such an amazing and talented community of educators, is the culmination of a lifetime of work,” said Lauren Avery of UCLA. “The infusion of federal grant funds and the research partnership with UCLA have helped to build a framework but it is the teachers, students and community members in Shelton that have brought this work to life.

“ExcEL reflects the best aspects of each partner,” added Avery, “but has taken on a its own existence and character. And that is to meet the moral imperative of welcoming and educating every child in our communities.”

Natalia Rodriguez speaking about the importance of not giving up when learning a second language.

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