Latino Growth Spurs Bilingual Ed Call

Thomas Breen photoCity public schools have over 3,500 students who do not speak English as a native language. The system has only 50 certified bilingual teachers to teach those students.

That English Language Learner-to-bilingual teacher imbalance emerged on Thursday night during a wide-ranging, two-and-a-half-hour workshop that the Board of Alders Education Committee held in the Aldermanic Chambers on the second floor of City Hall.

The workshop saw New Haven Public Schools (NHPS) administrators provide a snapshot of one of the largest and fastest-growing demographics in the city’s 21,333-student public school system: students whose primary language is not English.

It also brought together dozens of teachers, students, parents, school staff, education experts, local politicians, and concerned community members, many of whom testified as to how they think the public school system can improve its educational services for non-native English speakers. They offered suggestions ranging from hiring more bilingual educators to offering more bilingual electives to changing curricula to be more culturally sensitive and less Eurocentric.

“We have had two and a half hours of testimony,” Education Committee Vice-Chair and Fair Haven Alder Kenneth Reveiz said as the meeting wrapped up around 8:30 p.m. “I don’t remember the last committee meeting that we’ve had that has had that much public interest.”

That should signal to the city and to the Board of Education, Reveiz said, that bilingual education and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) instruction is a top priority for this community.

Education Committee Chair and Wooster Square Alder Aaron Greenberg said that the committee will hold another public hearing on the exact same topic sometime early in the new year, giving the public another opportunity to testify before the committee issues a formal set of recommendations to the Board of Education.

English Learner Student Snapshot

The hearing began with a 20-minute overview of the current state of NHPS’s English Learner population, as provided by NHPS Director of English Learners Abie Quiñones-Benitez and NHPS Supervisors Carmen Rodriguez and Pedro Mendia-Landa.

NHPS has 44 schools, 21,333 students, and 4,049 teachers: 2,862 full-time and 1,187 part-time.

Forty-six percent of the student body is Latinx, 37 percent African-American, and 13 percent white.

“Our English Learners in K-12 schools represent 18 percent of our students,” Quiñones-Benitez explained. That’s 3,532 students who are classified by the school system as English Learners because they did not grow up speaking English and/or they do not speak English as their primary language at home. The number of English Learners in relation to the total student body has grown from 14 percent to 18 percent over the past five years.

Of those over 3,500 English Learners, 85 percent speak Spanish as their primary language. The next most popular home languages are Arabic, at 4 percent of the English Learner population; Pashto, also at 4 percent; and Mandarin, at 1 percent.

Melissa Bailey photoFair Haven School has the highest number of English Learners at 446, followed by John S. Martinez School and Columbus Academy, both of which have 233. New Haven Academy has the lowest number of English Learners at 2, followed by Elm City Montessori at 5 and West Rock Academy at 7.

To teach that population, the city currently employs 50 bilingual teachers, 33 ESOL teachers, 14 ESOL and bilingual support tutors, four instructional coaches, and one director and two supervisors of Bilingual/ESOL programs.

The district offers dual language immersion programs at Columbus Academy, John C. Daniels School, Clinton Avenue School, and Fair Haven School, where in certain grades and in certain subjects, students are taught in their native language (almost always Spanish, but some bilingual programs are offered in Arabic and Mandarin as well). The district also offers ESOL support programs at dozens of schools, including Fair Haven School, Lincoln-Bassett School, John S. Martinez School, and many more.

“The state says that for every 50 English Learners, we should have a teacher for speakers of other languages,” Quiñones-Benitez said. “We are not near that, but that is a goal that we can have for the future.” She said the district has already trained 90 general education teachers in Sheltered Instruction (SI) strategies for delivering grade-level content in formats that English Learners can understand.


She said her department is prioritizing not only expanding dual language programs, but also in providing SI training for general education teachers districtwide so that English Learners do not fall behind their native English speaking peers just because they are not in a bilingual classroom.

“Our students are here and we have a responsibility to ensure that their education is at the same equity and the same quality as all of our students,” Rodriguez said.

Mendia-Landa showed that a quick look at student performance metrics indicate that the school system’s English Learners are still trailing far behind their native English speaking peers in both math and reading.

Sixty-five percent of the city’s English Learner students scored far behind grade-level achievement standards in the 2017-2018 English Language Arts (ELA) Smarter Balanced Assessment, in comparison to 33 percent of native English students. For last year’s math Smarter Balanced Assessment, 67 percent of English Learners scored far behind grade-level achievement standards, while 46 percent of native-English students came up equally short.

Mendia-Landa said that English Learners and native English students year-over-year improvement rates are pretty similar for math and literacy Smarter Balanced Assessments. But the numbers show that New Haven’s non-native English speakers are still struggling to keep up with their native English classmates.

How To Improve Bilingual and ESOL Education

Thomas Breen photosThe latter two-plus hours of the hearing consisted of public testimony from a range of parents, teachers, students, and concerned community members about how the district can improve its education services for English Learners. In addition to the 12 people who testified at City Hall on Thursday night, Greenberg said that the committee received over 40 pages of written testimony in the lead up to the public hearing.

Those ideas and proposals put forward on Thursday night included:

• Hire more bilingual and ESOL teachers, and make sure that those teachers are fully qualified and certified for English Learner instruction. Kristin Mendoza, an ESOL and English teacher at Wilbur Cross High School’s International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences, said that the number of English Learners at the Wilbur Cross academy has grown from 247 to 335 since 2012. But number of ESOL teachers has stayed flat at five.

• Hire more bilingual staff for outside of the classroom so that English Learner don’t feel like they can only go to the one Spanish-speaking staff member if they have a question or a problem. “I always need more bilingual staff,” said Wilbur Cross Principal Edith Johnson, who speaks Spanish fluently and is of Puerto Rican descent. She said budget cuts and the ending of state grants forced Wilbur Cross to lay off its two bilingual clerks and a bilingual counsellor, and end its social work intern program that every year hired eight Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) students, several of whom were fluent in Spanish.

• Make sure that bilingual and ESOL instructors are trained in trauma-informed, anti-racist, and socio-emotional support practices, since many English Learners have come to the city, and to the city school system, after fleeing natural or manmade violence. “We need to make sure staff members are paying attention to our own biases that we have as individuals,” Fair Haven School fifth grade bilingual teacher David Weinreb said. That’s especially important, he said, when teachers do not come from the same socio-cultural background as their students.

• Scrap the historically inaccurate, racist, and Eurocentric pedagogy at the core of many schools’ curricula, even at those schools that are engaging in dual language immersion. Sarah Miller, the mother of two students at Columbus Academy, said that she was appalled when she heard Spanish-speaking elementary school students give a presentation during a Hispanic heritage pride ceremony about how Christopher Columbus discovered the New World. That presentation, though delivered in Spanish, included nothing about the genocide of native peoples in North and South America. She called for the school to update its curriculum to “build a bridge between the radical project of teaching in Spanish and the content [students] read.”

• In the bilingual programs that already do exist, make sure that teachers are not just teaching in Spanish, but teaching Spanish grammar and syntax and vocabulary as well. Eleven-year-old Engineering and Science University Magnet School (ESUMS) sixth grader Ambar Santiago-Rojas (pictured above) said that she was never taught Spanish grammar as an elementary school student in a bilingual immersion classroom at Columbus Academy. “We read in Spanish,” she said. “But they never corrected us if we said something wrong in Spanish. Class was in Spanish, but they never taught us the language.”

• Don’t teach just core subjects like reading and math and science and history in Spanish. Provide more bilingual electives as well, so that students can learn in their native languages through music and art. “At Columbus, they teach some songs only when at assembly,” said Fatima Rojas, Santiago-Rojas’s mom. Dual language musical education should also be a part of an English Learner’s classroom experience, she said.

• When budgets get tight, don’t turn first to bilingual and ESOL programs for cuts. Because those cuts do a grave disservice to one of the city’s fastest-growing student populations.

“I’m here in full support of endorsing dual language programs,” said Madeline Negron, the president of Connecticut Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (CALAS). “It’s money up front, but it’s well spent,”

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posted by: Teachergal on November 30, 2018  2:51pm

How about offering free conversational spanish to teachers. Or Spanish could be offered in a masters program for credit.  I am retired but would have taken advantage of that in a second. In fact if it was offered I would take it and volunteer as a support system/Tutor. Something to consider.

posted by: Bohica on November 30, 2018  3:01pm

I don’t think New Haven should be looking to spend money it doesn’t have on any new or expanded programs. This is the problem with illegal immigration and being a sanctuary city.

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on November 30, 2018  3:56pm

The vast majority of inner city youth also suffer from their inability to speak English.  Should we make concessions to help those who are languishing at bottom?  Absolutely we should.  But seperate will never end up being equal.  Therefore, those who find it arduously insurmountable to grasp marginal linguistic concepts, should be placed together regardless of ethnicity.

posted by: TheMadcap on November 30, 2018  5:32pm

“This is the problem with illegal immigration and being a sanctuary city”

A large part of the city’s latino population are Puerto Ricans, who last time I checked are American citizens

posted by: robn on November 30, 2018  6:40pm

I wish like hell that my grandparents passed their native language along to me not only for the obvious advantage of communicating with more people, but because I think learning two languages is a sum greater than the parts and makes you smarter. Shouldn’t we make two languages mandatory anyway and therefore have the innate capability of teaching kids with English as a second language? Am I over simplifying? Probably.

posted by: WildwildWestEducator on November 30, 2018  8:33pm

These meetings are great, but let’s be real here, why do you have a director and 2 supervisors for ELL, when you don’t have enough teachers to teach the students. And unfortunately because of violence elsewhere , the Arabic/Pashto/Dari population is growing and they are dumped in regular education classrooms or at schools with no tutor and a ELL teacher who is split between two schools and can’t help them because they only know Spanish. Start with getting ride of the two supervisors, that is 3-4 teachers right there. Stop the BS workshops after school at staff meetings because they aren’t helpful to teachers of students who speak languages other than Spanish. I had someone tell a colleague that I’m telling you this but I don’t know if it going to be helpful. If it is not helpful, then why say it at all. Get your presentation correct for that population so the teachers can be effective.  They barely giver fulmar education teachers what they need to be successful, this is just one more smoke screen

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on December 1, 2018  8:51am

Bohica, regardless of the immigration status of their parents, the kids didn’t do anything wrong. More prosaically, the kids are going to be paying your Social Security benefits (the taxes you’ve paid went to your parents’ benefits).  Don’t you want them well educated so that they can get decent jobs?

Robn, I volunteer at Columbus School and am envious of the kids in the dual language immersion program there. I didn’t start learning foreign languages until high school. I became fairly proficient but it would have been a lot easier had I started as a little kid.

posted by: BranfordResident_2 on December 1, 2018  8:54am


You’re racism , xenophobia along with your ignorance is spilling out. Please tuck it away before it does anymore damage. If your “illegal immigration” comment is directed to the fact that the vast majority of bilingual students are Spanish speakers , please show me what data you have to corroborate that statement. The vast majority of Spanish speakers are Puerto Rican / US citizens. Criticizing the ability to keep the Hispanic culture/language alive is JEALOUSY. I’m so sorry your ancestors didn’t have enough pride to pass it along.

@BLJ we are not separating English speakers from Non-English speakers. We are trying to find a better teaching method to teach the Non-English speakers English. Are you saying that the vast majority of Inner City youth speak another language besides English? In this case yes, they all speak Spanish. Reading the article above the highest concentration of ESL/Bilingual students are in inner city schools. Or are you referring to a different race/ethnicty?
Placing those struggling with A NEW language with those who have a basic / remedial understanding of English is a disservice to both populations.

posted by: BevHills730 on December 1, 2018  10:29am


There are many parents who found themselves in countries with no economic opportunities to support themselves or their families.  They didn’t do anything wrong by finding their way into this country, and they aren’t harming anyone by living here. To the contrary, many are making this country a better place to live and work.

posted by: Ex-HVN on December 1, 2018  7:56pm

It’s not just about Spanish speaking children. I just finished years of teaching in Bridgeport. 10 years ago Spanish speakers made up 95% of EL/ELL population. Now the Brazilain dialect of Portugese is number 1, add Hatian Creole, Viet Namese, Indo/Pak tongues and it’s a Tower of Babel.
Last semester, I was assigned to a classroom with a student who was labeled -non-verbal. He had enrolled in school accompanied by his landlord who said I don’t know what the parents speak. The ESL/ELL staff tried their 4 or 5 languages and assumed the child could not speak. He sat all the fall semester playing games on a chromebook, self teaching.
I started a world geography lesson asking children to come to the world map and place a pin where there family had come from. He watched with interest and after the other 28 students had been to the map, he got up and walked to the map, pointed to Greece and smiled.
I used the 4 or 5 Greek word I knew and he started talking nonstop. I contacted guidance and was told there was no one in the school system who could handle the language. It took me one call to the local Greek Orthodox Church to arrange a visit and a translator. Within a week the church set up 3 hours a day of in class volunteers to help the student function and adjust.
By the end of the year he was doing just fine, interacting with the other students and learning English.
Resourceful teachers and administrators know there are no-cost alternatives out there. People want to volunteer and help, especially senior citizens.

posted by: The keeper of the stars on December 1, 2018  10:26pm

Much of the information here is erroneous—and some actually disturbing—of course there is much to consider and improve on but this article certainly isn’t a way to get there—
I do appreciate whoever brought this issue to light and it certainly has merit and should/will be dealt with—but not with such a negative tone
This is our family and our community and together in a spirit of love, kindness and cooperation we can make miracles happen—
And hopefully as of December 5th our/your hope will be restored—Tommy Burns

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on December 2, 2018  12:29pm

@ BranfordResident,

Since you asked me a question, let me answer that first and then ask you a question.  My point is this, children in the inner city too lack and struggle with the ability to grasp the salient concepts of the English language. Therefore, their communicative skills lapse severely which unarguably will make it difficult to subsist in today’s society. Thus, they too in my view are in need of the same academic attention that you and others are advocating for other group(s).  So I agree that we need more educators teaching youth that are bereft of opportunities to learn standard English. 

Allow me to parse your your questions by responding in this fashion.  1. Yes.  It’s called Broken English.  2. Yes.  More broadly I’m referring to African American children. 3. Your statement of conflating non-English speaking youth with those “who have a basic / remedial understanding of English is a disservice to both populations,” is a statement that I categorically disagree with.  In my view, they both can learn from one another.  Clearly non-English speaking youth will be introduced to symbols and sounds.  This proper phonetic approach has been missing from the lexicon of the vast majority of African American youth since the 60’s and 70’s.  Are there some exceptions? I’m sure there are.  However, that foundational approach has been absent severely.

I applaud your advocacy and agree that non-English speaking youth need additional services.  I just don’t think it should be relegated to a certain ethnic group when others suff

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on December 2, 2018  10:56pm

BevHills730, I agree with you. My point was that even someone who holds different views on immigration policy than we do should agree that children should not be penalized for their parents’ actions.

posted by: TheMadcap on December 3, 2018  12:16am

“proper phonetic approach”

This isn’t actually a thing and just admit you don’t like how the kids talk

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on December 3, 2018  9:14am

@ Madcap,

You’re correct, it isn’t a “thing.”  Because a “thing” is a noun.  Quite the contrary, it’s a foundational approach to teaching the English language by incorporating phonics.  Which comprises of symbols and sounds.  You may disagree, and that’s fine.  But it’s what taught me and I stand by it.

Let me end with this, I don’t allow people to put words in my mouth, and I don’t allow people to take words out either.  Simply put, I say what I want whether the likes of you and others care to like it or not.  That’s why I don’t hide behind pseudonyms like Madcap.

posted by: wendy1 on December 3, 2018  9:31am

I took Spanish when I was close to 50 y.o. (at SCSU).  All Americans should become bilingual and Spanish is an easy language to learn.  Most folks I met in Europe spoke 3 or more languages.

posted by: ebw1957 on December 3, 2018  10:27am

Is there any entity that New Haven can’t outspend ?- with money that is not even theirs.

posted by: westville man on December 3, 2018  11:29am

Somewhat off the topic here, but this comment about “hiding behind pseudonyms” seems to come up again and again by those using their given names.
Some of us comment on a variety of topics and have family members, who for their own personal reasons, do not want the affiliation to become public.
However, speaking for myself, I am out in front very publicly on the issues that are extremely important to me. That includes television appearances, public speaking engagements as well as newspaper photos and articles.
But for purposes of commenting on various topics and issues presented here, I respect and defer to my family’s request.

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on December 3, 2018  12:25pm

@ Westvilleman,

I use the word “pseudonym” in defense of my openness with those who like to throw stones and hide their hands.

Certainly I can understand your reason and the reasons of others who use fictitious names on forums such as this.  However, I choose never to do so.  Those who know me or have read my comments over the years know that I’m fair with my critique.  And if someone can present a greater argument than mine, then I’m going to graciously support theirs.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on December 4, 2018  3:48pm

NHPS needs more bilingual teachers and other staff. But I think the district’s definition of English Language Learners is narrower than the article’s description. The district first identifies kids who did not grow up speaking English or whose families primarily speak another language. But it then tests these kids for their English proficiency. ELLs are those kids who are not proficient enough to participate fully in the English-only program. In contrast, many of the kids I interact with at Columbus School whose families are Spanish-dominant are also fluent in English.

One small irony. The NHPS webpage describing eligibility for ELL services contains a spelling error that ELLs often make - it uses “too” instead of “to.”