November 25, 2004: Headlines: COS - Costa Rica: TEFL: Andover Townsman: Costa Rica RPCV Joe Costello heads English Language Learner program in Andover High School

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Costa Rica: Peace Corps Costa Rica : The Peace Corps in Costa Rica: November 25, 2004: Headlines: COS - Costa Rica: TEFL: Andover Townsman: Costa Rica RPCV Joe Costello heads English Language Learner program in Andover High School

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Costa Rica RPCV Joe Costello heads English Language Learner program in Andover High School

Costa Rica RPCV Joe Costello heads English Language Learner program in Andover High School

Costa Rica RPCV Joe Costello heads English Language Learner program in Andover High School

For English Language Learners... AHS record on MCAS could be put to the test

By Dorian Block

A recent surge in English-as-a-second-language students at Andover High School has the school pushing to maintain its perfect MCAS record.

Last year there were 13 students in the high school's English Language Learner program. This year there are 21. Each additional student means another individual education plan, more demands on the sole ELL teacher, Joe Costello, and one more finger-crossing hope that this student will pass, too.

"Everyone comes together to make sure the students pass," Costello said. "We see what they need and we provide it for them. Andover High School is a good school whether English is your first language or not."

In 2002, state law changed, mandating all students have to pass the MCAS to graduate from high school, even if they arrive in the country as late as the end of their senior year. Before 2002, only students in the country for more than three years had to pass the exam.

Since the policy change, Andover has maintained its perfect record - seven for seven - of new American students passing the MCAS.

This year 10 students will take the exam.

The student immigrants in Andover are part of a small transient community in a town that typically has little turnover. There are 60 students districtwide enrolled in the English Language Learner program, from families who either have enough wealth to live in a town where the median income is over $80,000, the average home over $500,000, or enough money to send their children to live with a relative in Andover.

"Kids come to Andover to prepare to go to US universities," said Susan O'Brien, district pupil personnel director. She said she has seen many students who live with aunts and uncles for a year or two before college, to have an American high school degree behind them.

Costello estimates 50 percent of his students are new to the country, 25 percent have lived in other states and 25 percent have moved from other towns in the Merrimack Valley.

Costello is a native English speaker, but he spent time in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica years ago. He used to shuffle among several of Andover's schools, until last year when the higher testing standards and enrollment numbers created a full-time demand at the high school.

Costello's English Language Learner classroom is a sanctuary for students who spend most of their school days living inside their heads, unable or afraid to express themselves in English for fear of making mistakes. They come to Costello during lunch to avoid the chaos of the cafeteria and catch a few extra minutes of studying, even after they have moved out of his program.

"My students are highly motivated," Costello said. "I try to create a stress-free, safe environment, because learning a language can be stressful."

Costello teaches them about the high school's culture, extracurricular activities and sports.

"The good news is, if kids stay here for more than two years, three-quarters go on to college and the other 25 percent go to their home country," Costello said. "None drop out."

About half of the students come from Southeast Asia and about a quarter are Hispanic. They are thrown into English, possibly as the voters who passed the English immersion ballot initiative in 2002 would like, left without peers to communicate with. Costello said there are only a few students who come from the same country or speak the same language.

O'Brien described the 2002 vote to eliminate all bilingual education in the state as "changing the playing field."

Costello works closely with Principal Peter Anderson and with each student's general education teachers to prepare a plan of attack for each student.

Costello tries to coordinate assignments and understand where students are in their general classes. Each student has a specialized schedule, physical education, art and maybe math at first. Once they know more English, they are integrated into history and science.

Thomas Meyers, an anthropology and physics teacher at Andover High, has two students who are still learning English in his mainstream classroom.

Meyers said that he works with Costello to discover stories or information that the students have shared in Costello's more nurturing environment. Meyers then tries to bring that information out in his own classes.

"We try to help them become confident enough to speak," Meyers said. "To watch them learning language skills has been tremendous."

Another time-consuming obstacle for these students has been an influx of testing requirements. Most stay after school several days a week for the MCAS preparation program, open to all students who struggle on the exam.

But the English Language Learner students who entered the district last spring had to take an assessment exam from Andover, the state's old exam that is being phased out, the state's pilot exam, and the MCAS.

"Testing requirements have exploded exponentially," O'Brien said.

In Costello's classroom, which he refers to as "a small UN," his many shy students, quiet only out of a change in culture and language, are forced to sit for tests over and over again to make sure the school and students are progressing.

They will be asked to sit for the MCAS in the spring - hoping, along with their teachers, that they can maintain Andover's perfect record.

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Story Source: Andover Townsman

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Costa Rica; TEFL



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