District 54 Welcome and Assessment Center supports students, families
On any given day, District 54’s Welcome and Assessment Center is bustling with activity as staff work one-on-one with students to assess their English proficiency and meet with families to discuss assessment results, answer questions and share information and resources.
Currently 2,634 District 54 students, or nearly one-fourth of the district’s student population, are classified as English Language Learners. This number has increased annually due to the growing diversity of the district, and approximately 1,300 students have been assessed each year for the past several years. This year as of June 1, 801 students entering kindergarten were assessed for language proficiency in English and 449 qualified for English Learner services.
The Welcome and Assessment Center’s name conveys exactly what it was designed to do. Not only does it provide a centralized location for assessment of students’ EL needs, it is also a place where families can receive information and ask questions.
All new registrants to District 54 complete a Home Language Survey as required by Illinois School Code. The child’s school schedules a language screening appointment at the Welcome and Assessment Center for any student whose survey indicates that a language other than English is spoken in the home, unless that student came from another school or district and met exit criteria or did not qualify for services. The language screener administered at the Welcome and Assessment Center, located at the Rafferty Administration Center, determines eligibility for EL services by measuring proficiency in listening, speaking, reading and writing. Staff will also travel to schools to assess students when parents cannot transport their children to the assessment center, and they work in close partnership with school staff.
“Our strong partnership with the schools is an essential component to being able to identify students who may need to be screened and working with the parents to set up an appointment,” said Nancy Hellstrom, a District 54 instructional coach and assessment teacher. “We provide the results to the parents and the child’s school as quickly as possible so that classroom and EL resource teachers have information that they can use right away to get to know the students and plan for their needs.”
At the Welcome and Assessment Center, parents – many of whom are also English Learners – can talk one-on-one with an assessment teacher who can explain their children’s assessment results. Parents can ask questions about the programs and learn about options for their child including the dual and immersion programs. The assessment teacher informs parents that it is their choice whether or not their child participates in the EL program and that District 54 has extensive support for all students in each school.
“It’s very beneficial to explain face to face, and we try to do this in the family’s language as much as possible,” Hellstrom said. “Our team is very flexible in meeting the needs of parents. Beyond registration, we are the first group of people that our parents meet, and we want them to feel comfortable and empowered to ask questions.”
Information about the assessment process is displayed on screens in the Center in English, Spanish, Polish and Japanese. Families are welcome to bring their other children to the Center while an incoming student is being assessed, and a variety of toys, games and books are available. Parents new to the country also learn about resources available in the community, often in the language they speak at home.
Staff also shares information with parents about other aspects of school such as curriculum night, parent-teacher conferences and report cards, and they encourage parents to ask questions, said Barb Velez, Welcome and Assessment Center secretary.
“Barb does an amazing job greeting families, making them comfortable and helping them understand the process,” Hellstrom said.
Nicole Lumpp, an instructional coach and assessment teacher, notes that when a child is found to be eligible for EL services in District 54, staff tries to help parents see this as a positive piece – as a way of getting their student the extra support they need to continue to move forward.
Lumpp said that staff encourages families to continue to speak their home language with their children because it carries great benefits.
“It’s really important for parents to hear that they can and should speak their language at home,” Velez said. “We are embracing them and their background. We reassure parents it’s OK to be an English learner. These students are bilingual, and this is a gift. They can talk to other people in their own language, and English learning is a positive seed for growth and lifelong learning.”
District 54 hosts an EL Kindergarten Information Night each spring for parents of students with another language at home to learn about the English Language proficiency assessment and EL services. Each kindergarten student who completes the English Learner assessment at the Center receives a Getting Ready for Kindergarten bag, which includes items such as a whiteboard, marker and eraser to practice writing letters, numbers and their name; a book; tips to help parents work with their children on handwriting; and a calendar with stickers to motivate the child to read a book with an adult each day.
The Assessment Center is open during summer registration and throughout the school year.