Editor's note: Nearly 65,000 students are enrolled in English-language learner (ELL) classes in Minnesota. For many students these language support classes are a great help. Determining when students are ready to move on can be complicated. In this next installment of MPR News' Young Reporters Series, Joshua Crespo tells us about his experience.
I'm a junior at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis. I transferred here nearly two years ago. I'm the student body president and I represent Cristo Rey to potential students. I'm at the top of my class academically in a school that doesn't offer English-language learner classes.
And that's OK, because I don't need them. This is a far cry from my experience at my old school where I spent eight years in ELL classes.
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I was born in the U.S. speaking both English and Spanish, but my Mexican parents speak Spanish most of the time. I was placed in ELL classes in the Richfield Public Schools from first grade until ninth grade. I'm not sure I needed the classes, but my parents went along with the district's recommendation. I learned the same academic content as other students, and focused on learning English.
In ninth grade, David Clark was my science teacher at Richfield High School. He's also licensed to teach ELL. I met with him recently at a local coffee shop. He explained those classes, sometimes called sheltered classes, are designed mainly for lower-performing mainstream students. He says he's always watching students to see if they need to be in those classes.
"It's really based on their success in my class," he said. "I feel like if a kid in a sheltered class gets an A, they're probably in the wrong place. They probably really need to move up."
Mr. Clark was able to move me up. That was good for me because my friends and other students teased me about taking the class. They called it the "dumb class." It was frustrating and discouraging. Especially since I did well in my classes and the work wasn't even challenging. Mr. Clark says it was clear to him that I did not belong in ELL.
"If I remember correctly, it was only four or five weeks before we recognized that you were in the wrong place," he said. "And we weren't serving you the best we could. It was an easy decision to move you on. And with the success you've found since then, it's reaffirmed our belief.
My teachers at Cristo Rey agree. Derek Wood taught me world history last year.
"I've always been impressed with your work and your work ethic and how much determination you put into every single assignment," he said. "So I'd definitely say you're in the top five percent. And that can also be shown by your success in the AP (Advanced Placement) program this year as well."
I applied twice before I got accepted to Cristo Rey. I wanted to prove I could do it, and because I watched my older sister Stephanie. She graduated from here in 2011.
Now, my younger sister, Osiris, is in sixth grade at Richfield Middle School and is in English learner classes just like I was. She's beginning to feel discouraged and frustrated and I don't want her grades or confidence to drop, so I help her with homework. And my mom, Martina Arreola, helps her, too.
My mom has asked the school district to remove my sister from ELL.
And I want her out, too. My English abilities improved after I got out of ELL in ninth grade. I believe that she will become a better student if she gets out earlier than I did. Another way for my sister to get out of ELL classes is for her to do well on the annual assessment at the end of the school year. The reason why my mom wants her out of ELL is because she believes it is best for her.
"I want what's best for my daughter," she says. "I want her, all of you, my kids, to become professional kids."
I'm finishing up my junior year at Cristo Rey. After I graduate, I plan to major in biology and to become a doctor. I don't know how much ELL has helped me academically, but I do know it gave me the motivation to want to do much more challenging work.