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Congressional Staffers Will Take Field Trip to Learn About ELLs

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Five congressional staffers and at least one U.S. Department of Education official plan to soon participate in a two-day field trip to schools in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas to learn about the education of English-language learners. The trip, May 6-8, is to be led by the Washington-based American Youth Policy Forum and focuses on visits to schools that have a good reputation for serving high school ELLs, according to Sarah Hooker, a program associate for the AYPF who is organizing it.

Thus, some of the people who help to shape policy in Congress and in the federal government's education agency are going out of their way to learn more about English-language learners. It's interesting, in addition, that the focus of the field trip is on serving ELLs in high school, an area where school districts are really struggling.

"Broadly, the goal is to identify policy implications for better serving an older ELL population," she said. The program features both newcomers to the United States and long-term ELLs, she said. The field trip includes a visit to the Hidalgo Independent School District, which runs an early-college high school that enrolls a fair number of ELLs. (In 2006, my colleague Catherine Gewertz featured the success of the Hidalgo school district in the pages of EdWeek.)

It also includes a visit to the Pharr San Juan Alamo Independent School District, which runs a pre-K-12 two-way immersion program, in which native speakers of English and native speakers of Spanish learn both languages in the same classroom.

The trip is being financed by a grant to the AYPF from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Among the 20 people who have signed up are Hill staffers from the offices of U.S. Reps. Nydia M. Velazquez (D-N.Y.), Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas), Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Michael M. Honda (D-Calif.), and Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.). Jim Yun, a program specialist for academic improvement and teacher-quality programs for the Education Department, is confirmed as a participant. Three other Education Department officials, including Ida Eblinger Kelley, the director of Hispanic outreach and communications, have signed up to go, but confirmation for them is pending.

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Hopefully they will not just go to big cities and places that have large populations but also suburban and rural districts too. These students are often ignored and left out and the image of ESOL students is on failing children in school districts where most students are failing. Getting a bigger picture is important. It also can't be assumed that the ESOL students in suburban and rural districts have a monetary advantage. Often they are the students getting free lunch.

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