SALT LAKE CITY — In a school year like no other, Edison Elementary School is finding new ways to reach the 64% of its student body who are English language learners.
Salt Lake City School District is the only district statewide to solely offer remote learning, which has meant teachers at Edison have had to develop — often on the fly — innovative teaching techniques and inventive uses of technology to help their students progress academically and work toward English proficiency.
“We really focus on this to make sure that when students leave elementary that they are proficient in English because it opens so many doors in our secondary education for those to be able to take advantage of electives, and just the content area, if they have that English proficiency,” said Peggy Paterson, Salt Lake School District’s director of language arts, while addressing the local school board.
Susan Damm, principal of Edison Elementary, said teachers have become highly skilled using Zoom, pulling small groups of students into breakout groups where they can work on a concept, or work among themselves on a problem as they would if they were together in a classroom.
“The kids are talking to each other and still having those conversations, finding ways to make that happen. They’re learning from each other, helping each other,” she said.
While instruction is primarily conducted online in Salt Lake schools, exceptions have been made for students who receive special education services but also for some English language learners who need extra help and benefit from in-person instruction.
Damm said teachers at Edison are committed to making a difference for their multilanguage learners. Recently the school was one of eight schools statewide recognized by the Utah State Board of Education as “exemplary” for its efforts on behalf of English language learners.
The state’s criteria for “excellent” included schools with an enrollment of more than 400 students; 80% to 100% of the student body economically disadvantaged; 40% to 50% students learning English; and 40% to 60% achieving their individual annual growth goal as set by the state.
“Exemplary” schools met all the criteria for the ranking but reached the additional benchmark of 10% of their students achieving English proficiency, which is above the state average of 6%.
Damm said the recognition was gratifying to Edison’s teachers.
“It’s been great to know that all this skill, energy, time and expertise that they put in really paid off and it made a difference for kids. That’s where you want it, right? You want to make the difference for students and to know that it did, and that they’re growing. I think that’s the most exciting part for my staff,” she said.
The State School Board recognized 19 schools in six school districts. Among eight schools recognized as “exemplary” statewide, five were in the Salt Lake City School District, while two other Salt Lake schools were deemed “excellent.”
In Utah, more than 52,700 students are English language learners, about 8% of all students statewide.
Damm said teachers are working hard to meet the needs of students and at the same time figure out how to transfer their skills to virtual learning platforms, which often takes more energy to keep learning lively and manage the technological aspects of online learning.
“It’s keeping it fresh for kids because kids can turn it off and walk away,” Damm said.
“It’s really a credit to those who are doing it because they’re exhausted because it just takes so much energy and thinking on your feet and switching things up. You’re trying to watch Zoom, which is hard, and then you’re seeing chaos in the background that you just smile at and keep going,” she said.
For the state to acknowledge Edison’s instructional efforts for English language learners meant a lot, Damm said. Eleven languages are spoken at the school.
“It’s nice for my teachers to have their cups filled a little bit because sometimes it feels a little empty. So this is a really nice cup filler for us,” she said.
Damm, at a recent Salt Lake school board meeting, said Edison’s primary focus is reading and writing among all students.
“We know that when we have a laser focus on getting those literacy skills, and really looking and digging deep to what students really need, that we can make a powerful difference. We’re just excited to know that the systems we put in place are working and we are really reaching students and having them be successful,” she said.
Here’s a list of all schools recognized by the Utah State Board of Education.
Granite School District: Monroe Elementary School.
Ogden School District: Odyssey Elementary School.
Provo School District: Spring Creek Elementary School.
Salt Lake City School District: Backman, Edison, Escalante, Liberty and Mountain View elementary schools.
Canyons School District: Midvale Elementary School.
Granite School District: Woodrow Wilson, Hillsdale, Stansbury, Granger and David Gourley elementary schools.
Ogden School District: James Madison and T. O. Smith elementary schools.
Salt Lake City School District: Meadowlark and Mary W. Jackson elementary schools.
Washington County School District: Paradise Canyon Elementary School.
Correction: An earlier version listed Hillside Elementary as a “excellent” school for English language instruction but should have said Hillsdale Elementary.