Online Professional Learning and
Technical Assistance for
21st Century Community Learning Centers

Equity, Diversity and English Learners

You may remember that back in November, Marcy Richards, 21st CCLC Program Manager for Anchorage School District, shared some innovative ideas about forming strategic partnerships to serve “the most diverse district in the country.” We asked Marcy to tell us a little more about how her district addresses the critical intersection of equity, diversity, and serving English learners. [Podcast]

Y4Y: Thank you so much for joining us, Marcy! Can you remind our audience how it is that Anchorage is considered the most diverse district in the country?

MR: Thank you so much for having me. I’m grateful to represent Anchorage School District (ASD) and the 21st CCLC program. ASD has over 100 languages spoken in it. Alaska is a refugee state, and therefore people from many different countries are living in Anchorage. Many of the schools we serve have 19 or 22 languages spoken in them. This obviously makes learning for English learner students and communications with their parents or guardians a challenge. Our program has the following ethnicities represented:

Alaska Native American Indian Asian Black Hispanic Multi-Ethnic Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander White
19% .4% 11% 10% 17% 19% 17% 7%

Y4Y: Let’s start with the challenges. What would you say are the obstacles that are fairly unique to your community?

MR: Our schools are very active with family engagement, although it’s difficult at times to communicate with caregivers about their student. For example, while we can send home a permission slip in two or three languages, sending home permission slips in 20 languages is just not reasonable. We have a wonderful English Learners Department in our district, many translators and a translation service that we also use. There are apps like Google Translate that we also find helpful. Sometimes the student translates, or an older sibling.

Y4Y: With so many different languages spoken, Anchorage can’t possibly take advantage of many of the strategies Y4Y suggests on behalf of English learners, such as employing staff who speak the same language. What are some of the strategies your program has implemented to work around these obstacles in order to support English learners?

MR: Our 21st CCLC program is STEM focused. We have been very successful with pre-teaching (or priming) math concepts, coding and robotics. Math is a universal language, so it’s a great place to start with English learners. Our coding and robotics programs utilize picture instruction, such as LEGO®, so it’s much easier for an English learner to be successful right away in these programs. I have such respect for the tenacity our students who are English learners have. They spend all day long operating in a system that is foreign to them. I want afterschool to be a relief, a place they can instantly become accepted and successful.

Y4Y: Y4Y just updated our STEM course to a STEAM course. It’s exciting to hear how student collaboration in STEM is yet another opportunity to support English learners. We’d love to hear about successes that you attribute to this strategy.

MR: Our district follows the Multi-Tiered System of Support, which categorizes students into three tiers. Tier 1 consists of students performing at or above grade level, Tier 2 consists of students performing below grade level, and Tier 3 consists of students who need intensive interventions. Our 21st CCLC program focuses on students in Tiers 2 and 3 from the lowest economic level elementary schools in the district. As I said, we offer a STEM-based program with enrichment offered in robotics. We make the robotics assets available to the school-day teachers during the day for the Tier 1 students while the Tier 2 and 3 students are receiving interventions. With this model, all three tiers have equity of access to the robotics enrichment.

During our pre-teaching math sessions, we offer math concepts, often with hands-on games, to our Tier 2 and 3 students. The next day they are in their classes learning the lesson of the math concept from the previous afternoon. It’s incredibly empowering for the EL student to know the vocabulary, know the concept, and be able to do peer mentorship with a Tier 1 student who hasn’t yet received the lesson. That Tier 2 and 3 student’s confidence goes through the roof. I remember one little girl said to a site coordinator, “I’m smart in math now! I’ve never been smart at math.” That is life changing. To change what the students think of themselves and to change their trajectory, that’s what we are all working for.

Y4Y: Are there other concerns besides language barriers that you have around equity for students in your community?

MR: Yes: 47% of 21st CCLC students are English learners at ASD, and 11% are homeless. We have a lot of very low-income students. To be considered a Title I school in ASD, the school needs to have 75% economically disadvantaged students. ASD 21st CCLC serves schools where 96% of the students are economically disadvantaged. We serve the poorest, most academically at-risk students in the district. There is lots of cultural diversity and lots of trauma, as well as food insecurity, students in foster care, and drug issues. Alaska is the number one state for domestic violence. We have a lot of work to do.

Y4Y: Do you have any last best practices you can share on how Anchorage uses 21st CCLC programs to ensure equity in so diverse a population of English learners?

MR: Creating relationships with the students and their caregivers is key. Being willing to help and serve each family in our school community will ultimately make the student successful. We aren’t treated the same way that the school day is. I think looking at that as an opportunity is powerful. We have so much room to run! We can do so much for the students who need us the most. We aren’t limited or dictated to about what we can and can’t do. We can create the best opportunity for our most at-risk students so that every child wants to be in school and be successful.