TOWAMENCIN- “I have learned so much every day and every week from them, and it’s just eye-opening. I tell them ‘you guys are like heroes to me.” These words from North Penn High School teacher Mrs. Lauren Michener best exemplify her career at NPHS.
The students in Michener’s classes come from all walks of life. They moved to the area from many different regions of the world including Latin America, Asia, and Europe. All her students share a common goal: to learn the English language.
“I tell them they are like my heroes in a way because I can’t imagine moving to another country not knowing the language [and] not knowing how to say certain things,” described Michener.
Michener’s favorite part of her job is witnessing the progress her students make over the course of a few months. They are exposed to a completely different culture and language than where they came from. Her students overcome obstacles that she could not imagine defeating.
“Only our kids who speak Spanish use a similar alphabet. The Egyptians come to us and they read from right to left. Their alphabet is totally different and their numbers are totally different. Everyone thinks that math is universal and that’s not always the case because some languages don’t even have the same numbers as us. I tell them ‘I learn as much from you as you learn from me,” detailed Michener.
Many know the program that teaches students English as ESL, which stands for “English as a second language.” The department is also called ELD for “English Language Development.” Michener is the head of ELD at North Penn High School and she teaches math and English to ELD students.
“The department is the ELD department and the students are EL’s,[which stands for] “English learners” because it is not always their second language they are learning. Sometimes it’s their third or fourth [language],” explained Michener.
Michener is also the chair of the ELD department at the secondary level, which includes all three middle schools in the district and the high school. Two years ago, she added a new area of expertise pertaining to her work with ELD.
“I am a learning coach as well. Any teachers that need support, anybody in the district at the secondary level that needs support, whether it’s modifying assignments or learning how to teach and work with the EL’s, I’m there to provide that support,” added Michener.
There are 150 students in the ELD program at North Penn and four different levels English learners can be placed in based on their varying knowledge of English.
“If a student comes and they have no English whatsoever, it is similar to my elementary degree, like things that you learn to do with any student to teach them vocabulary. You use a lot of pictures, a lot of realia, and basic language. If they are educated, and they can read and write in their first language, we allow them sometimes to translate certain things,” explained Michener.
Some EL students are from regions of the world where education was not available throughout their childhood and adolescence. For these students, the method of total physical response is integral, which involves totally immersing a student in the English language using pictures and videos.
“We also provide support for our EL’s who are in level one or level two ELD class. We have a resource period similar to a study hall where they can get work done. They can also get instruction re-taught to them at a slower pace, they can complete tests with us, and they can get help with homework,” described Michener.
The line of work for the ELD teachers and assistants sometimes goes beyond teaching students English. They act as parental figures for many students and provide guidance as they adjust to not just a new school, but also a new country.
“We are the kid’s advocate. We are their parent a lot of the time because we know what they can get out of school and what opportunities there are for them. A lot of kids come here, and they come from a background where education wasn’t as valued,” said Michener.
Certain families of new ELD students are not aware of the multitude of opportunities that are available for their children to receive. That’s where Michener and her other colleagues step in to guide their students towards success.
“We help advocate for the kids as a teacher and then sometimes stepping up to that role of what a parent would do. Whether it’s helping provide them with the forms for free or reduced lunch, getting the free internet, or hearing and vision testing. Whatever it may be to give them those resources,” explained Michener.
The ELD program also guides students in discovering a possible career path after high school. Michener and the guidance counselors at North Penn meet to ensure that the schedule of each new ELD student reflects his or her interests.
“Our kids, some of them come ‘and they’re like I want to be an engineer. I want to be a doctor. I want to be a lawyer.’ You either kind of have to retrain them based on their level of English or really push them to go forward. Some of our kids come in and have no clue what they want to do. So it’s up to us to tap into that and provide them with those classes, which is great because we have so many electives,” added Michener.
As the 2019-2020 school year progresses, Michener aims to establish relationships with teachers across the high school and make them aware of how to effectively help English learners in the program. This includes informing teachers on background information about students and the struggles they have faced while learning English.
There are five teachers in the ELD program who all strive to help students develop their English. Many of her students need assistance in every single class, and some are not even literate in their native language, which makes the task of teaching English more challenging.
“It’s a challenge that we are willing to accept. I feel like all of us that teach the EL’s, we want this challenge because we want to see them succeed. We all care. All of the assistants and the teachers. We all have different ways of showing it, but we all want them to be successful. It’s a very challenging, but rewarding profession,” proclaimed Michener.