Mineola’s bilingual classes help English language learners

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Nineteen of the 23 Mineola High School graduates who went through the English language learner program received advanced Regents diplomas this year, officials said. (Photo by Jessica Chin)

Bilingual teachers are helping more Mineola students who aren’t native English speakers to succeed in difficult classes and graduate with honors, school district officials said.

Mineola High School has one algebra teacher who leads classes in Spanish for students who are still learning English, and another teacher will offer similar U.S. history classes this year, Matthew Gaven, the assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction, technology and assessment, said.

Officials added those teachers to help students learning English graduate from high school in four years, as the state expects of districts, Gaven said. Some 41 percent of the students who moved into the district last year — including 80 percent of those entering grades seven through 12 — were English language learners, he said.

Algebra and social studies courses have proven difficult for such students to master and go on to pass state Regents exams, Gaven said. The Spanish classes help students learn the material without the added barrier of a new language, he said.

Both of those pieces were a big component of how we tried to hire this year and a big component of how we’re scheduling as well,” Gaven told the Mineola school board last Thursday.

The algebra classes had success in their first year — 12 more students repeating the course passed the Regents exam this year than in 2016, largely due to the bilingual teacher, Gaven said.

About 10 percent of Mineola students were English language learners in the 2015-16 school year, according to state Education Department data.

On top of the state’s four-year graduation standard, Mineola wants every student to take and pass a college-level course and graduate with an “advanced Regents” diploma, which requires higher passing scores on certain Regents tests than the standard diploma.

Of this year’s 23 graduates who went through the district’s English language learner program, 19 received advanced Regents diplomas, according to data Gaven presented.

“That tells me that when they stay with us they get good opportunities and they do good things,” Gaven said.

Some 74 percent of the whole 2017 cohort received advanced Regents diplomas this year, Gaven said, and 74 percent were enrolled in a college-level class.

That advanced graduation rate — the highest Superintendent Michael Nagler said he has seen since he started working in the district — is better than the 2016 figures for the more affluent Great Neck, Herricks and Port Washington school districts, according to data published by Newsday.

Some 25 percent of Mineola students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch in the 2015-16 year, Education Department data shows. The number for Great Neck was 14 percent; for Herricks, 9 percent; and for Port Washington, 19 percent.

“We’re far beyond our peers, so far beyond that we’re in the same conversation with our Gold Coast neighbors that have much different populations and much more resources,” Nagler said.

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