English Language Learners

State and federal laws require school districts to provide access to academic content and facilitate student progress toward English language proficiency. With school reopening in fall 2020, we need to adapt English Learner Education (ELE) services while meeting our legal and ethical obligations to ELs, whether students are learning remotely, in a phased hybrid model, or in the “new” normal of classrooms set up with adequate physical distance. 

Because remote learning does not easily lend itself to language development particularly at the beginning levels, students who are learning English at Proficiency Levels 1 and 2, newly arrived and newly enrolled ELs,  Students with Limited and/or Interrupted Formal Education (SLIFE), as well as students in Kindergarten through grade two in the Unidos Dual Language Program (both English Learners and English speaking) will be our priority for phased hybrid, in-person learning experiences. Priority within phased-in hybrid learning will allow these students to establish positive relationships with peers and teachers, gain from language modeling, and learn through interaction and practice in one another’s physical presence. To aid in language development the district has purchased clear masks for in-person instruction.

If health and safety conditions allow other groups of students to return to in-person learning, WIDA Level 3 students in grades Kindergarten through 8 will return to SEI Integrated classes with native English-speaking peers or general education classes with push-in or pull-out ESL Supports provided by an ESL Specialist. In grades 9 – 12, sequential ESL courses start at Level 1 with Native Language Literacy supports and continue through Academic Literacy level with language support classes paired with general education English Language Arts.

For all Language Learners, we will strive to maintain a sense of continuity in their school lives, ongoing connection with friends and teachers, as well as structure, routine, and predictability in a time of change and uncertainty for students and families.

In all learning models, ESL/ELD Instructional Services will be provided by Licensed ESL Educators following appropriate scheduling guidelines as recommended by WIDA. All learning models will include: language development opportunities in four domains (listening, speaking, reading, writing); opportunities for language input and language output; meaningful access to content learning with language supports; opportunities to develop home language; and providing the same rigor and expectations to meet standards as expected of any other SPS student with added level supports as appropriate.

In the initial all-remote phase of our hybrid model, all students will start the school year in remote learning. The delivery of ESL Instruction will follow DESE mandates that include daily double-blocks for students at Proficiency Levels 1 and 2 and daily blocks for students at Proficiency Levels 3 through 5. Daily blocks of ESL will be direct synchronous or live instruction. All ELs will continue to have access to the support of ESL Specialists and synchronous lessons with one-on-one pre-teaching and further reinforcement of language skills.

The design of our remote instruction will be guided by the lessons learned during the Spring 2020 semester, summer programming and informed by student, teacher, and family perspectives. We know effective remote learning depends upon teacher collaboration and co-delivery of instruction and supports. Teacher teams will co-plan, set student learning goals, and prepare delivery of synchronous and asynchronous learning. EL students benefit from a variety of remote learning structures including larger group, small group, and one-on-one instruction and support, and will continue to receive such within remote learning. Additionally, we will follow MA DESE strategies to support distance learning

Finally, we have learned that remote learning activities should not be solely reliant on technology. We are taking care that as we work to close technology and connectivity gaps, providing all Language Learners with access to stable internet as well as a Chromebook or tablet, we also provide equitable and equally rigorous work for those that have access to devices as to those who do not. Our goal is that 100% of Language Learners have access to receive the same learning experiences as all students and that we support families in supporting student learning.

Family Engagement    

Effective family engagement is a “building block” of the Blueprint for English Learner Success (MA DESE June, 2020). SPS Educators use culturally responsive practices and strategies to engage in two-way communication with families. In planning for fall 2020 school reopening, the district seeks parent and guardian input through translated surveys, multilingual forums, direct outreach from our full-time SFLC liaisons, and during the Summer Program for English Language Learners (SPELL). We provide the following resources to support and facilitate family engagement:

  • English Learner Parent Advisory Council (ELPAC) meets regularly to review Language Learner program structure and student progress, visit schools and classrooms, share resources for families, and advise the ELE Department on program improvements. During Covid-19 School Closure and fall 2020 re-opening, the ELPAC is critical in two-way communication with parents and guardians to gather information about family preferences and needs and disseminates information about health and safety protocols and learning models.
  • Somerville High School English Learner Welcome Center serves Language Learners and their families through orientation, academic and social support, and resource and referral. Multilingual Welcome Center Support Liaisons have been available for outreach and support to students and families during extended school closure and summer programming. The EL Welcome Center will remain open and functional during continued remote or hybrid learning. 
  • Somerville Family Learning Collaborative (SFLC) provides student enrollment services, prenatal and early childhood programs, resource and referral support for basic needs, School-Based Family and Community Liaisons, and Multilingual Services for translation and interpretation. During extended school closure, SFLC multilingual staff pivoted to provide intensive Covid-19 related services in collaboration with City Departments (Health and Human Services Department, Public Health Nurses, the SomerViva Office of Immigrant Affairs, Office of Housing Sustainability) and community agencies. SFLC is critical for school re-opening in order to provide ongoing multilingual communication and family support services that are linguistically and culturally responsive. The multilingual team of full time SFLC Family and Community Liaisons provide outreach services to families and coordinate both with school-based support teams and links to community resources. This report demonstrates the SFLC’s critical role in supporting families between March and June during the early months of the pandemic. Their work has continued throughout the summer and will continue to evolve as needs change in the coming months.
  • Tech Literacy videos and workshops are being developed in response to the fact that family access to internet and devices, as well as knowledge of digital platforms impacts EL students’ ability to engage in remote learning. Multilingual efforts toward Parent and Guardian Digital Literacy will continue with school reopening in partnership with SFLC, SPS Tech Department, Somerville City Cable, and the Somerville Media Center. Digital Literacy video topics include: setting up and using email, accessing zoom meetings with interpretation features, and overview of learning platforms.
  • Multilingual Services is recognized as key to ongoing two-way communication with families as information will be forthcoming and ongoing about school reopening Learning Model(s), health and safety, and access to basic needs resources and supports. Multilingual Services is using a variety of remote tools to provide language access for families as well as to aid educators in ongoing family meetings and communication about academic, social and emotional concerns.

Unidos Dual Language Program

(edited for August 17 version - see Appendix A for a record of changes)

We are committed to the Unidos Program vision and goals which means supporting our established program model while making adjustments to meet the dual language vision in a new learning setting. The Unidos mission is to provide students the opportunity to learn in both Spanish and English in a nurturing, supportive, multicultural environment that emphasizes high academic standards. UNIDOS is dedicated to educating bilingual, bi-literate thinking individuals with a profound respect for their culture and the culture of others. In Remote and Hybrid learning, the program model will remain intact with language allocated 70% Spanish and 30% English in grades Kindergarten and first grade and 50% Spanish and 50% English in grades two through eight. 

Because of the instructional model in the Unidos Program, dual language learners (English and Spanish) in grades K - 2 are included in our priority for in-person learning. In Unidos, English Learners at WIDA Levels 1 and 2 are developing English proficiency alongside ELs at higher WIDA Levels and English speaking peers. We prioritize in-person learning for language development across domains (Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing) that is dependent upon language modeling and interaction, we will take into consideration smaller student cohorts that include ELs and Spanish Language Learners at every level.

During the spring of 2020, Unidos teachers, ESCS Principal, and District Administrators met in an Unidos Institute to review and affirm the Unidos mission and goals and further develop program alignment and dual language practices. This summer, a Team of Unidos Teachers continued to meet and work on Digital Dual Language Guidelines with an emphasis on structures (i.e. zoom rules in English and Spanish, color coding for language as visual cues, and planning for language pairing and vertical alignment) and instructional practices. We will continue to refine them with the support of the Unidos Program Specialist, ELE Program Specialist, ESCS Principal, and ELE Director.


The issue of transportation for EL students placed outside of their proximity school for specialized Language Learner Programs (SEI 1 and Unidos) remains an area of concern. The need to maintain necessary social distancing on vehicles poses a significant challenge with no easy answers. We are reaching out to families who receive transportation to find out if parents will choose to access transportation or will choose to transport their students on their own. Students who live within a one mile distance of their assigned school will not be provided bus transportation and we are exploring the option of Supervised Walking from school to school. We are working with our transportation company regarding rerouting options, cleaning and sanitizing schedules, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirements for drivers and riders, and bus capacity.

As we prepare for a phased hybrid with EL students prioritized to return to In-person learning, we are planning double- and/or triple- routes to minimize the number of riders on a bus at one time and to provide adequate physical distance on the bus. In addition, all students will be assigned to seats.