CCA offers wide range of resources and services for ELL families

Teachers work to bridge the language barrier with robust ELL program

In the 1970s, Andrew Kalahanis and his family came to the United States from Greece. He was 6 years old and did not speak English.

It’s easy to understand then why Andrew, who formerly taught English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for CCA high school students, has a passion for English Language Learners. He can relate to them more than most teachers.

“I want [ELL students] to know that I’m one of them,” said Andrew, CCA’s director of innovative programs. “I want them to know I understand and that they don’t need to feel isolated or excommunicated.”

These feelings of isolation or excommunication are why CCA family mentors such as Mariette Marcos help ELL families. When ELL parents speak with Mariette for the first time, “It may be their first time ever speaking to a bilingual person,” she said.

Part of Mariette’s role is to bridge the language barrier. As a Spanish-speaking family mentor, she makes ELL families feel welcome and quells their fears. Mariette’s two children have attended CCA, and she makes this known to her families.

“I tell them I’m a parent," she said. "I know how overwhelming things can be, and I’m here to help.”

The help extended to ELL families goes beyond family mentors. To fully support and integrate ESL learners into the CCA family, Andrew said, CCA does the following:

• Offers a robust ELL program. After CCA “did some research” in 2016, Andrew said, the school began beefing up its already impressive ESL program by adding National Geographic’s NGconnect Program to the curriculum. The program has a “vigorous and innovative ESL component,” Andrew said. It is part of CCA’s language arts curriculum and is available to all K-12 students.

• Encourages and sponsors ELL family involvement with CCA. Full integration into CCA requires family involvement. To that end, families are encouraged to participate in a wide range of events at CCA’s Family Service Centers. During one of these events, students and their families will be invited to bring samples of their national cuisine and wear the traditional clothing associated with their cultural background. Students will prepare a display board with information about their native country, and this will be accented with artifacts they bring to the center.

“We just want them to get to know each other,” Andrew said. “They’re a big part of [CCA], just like our other 8,000 students. It’s really key to get them out of their homes and into the community so they feel welcomed and valued.”

• Creates relationships between ELL parents, students and teachers. Some parents and students who are not fluent in English may feel a disconnect with teachers because of the unique virtual setting, but CCA works hard to alleviate that and to forge a rapport among all parties. To accomplish this, ELL students submit a profile of themselves detailing their cultural background.

This profile helps ELL teachers to include things in their instruction that connect with each student’s cultural background. These could include items like certain pictures or phrasing examples in a way that helps the student identify with the lesson.

“It’s not about race … it’s going beyond that because one has to understand their norms might be very different than ours,” Andrew said. “Our staff must be aware of such differences to increase understanding and bridge any social or cultural gaps."

• Provides translation services. Another way CCA creates healthy working relationships is with TransPerfect, a global translation service. If CCA needs to communicate with ELL families, or vice versa, via written correspondence, TransPerfect makes it easier. The service also has oral translation and can be used as an intermediary during phone calls.

Because CCA is an online cyber school, it offers more flexibility to ELL families than traditional brick-and-mortar schools. Andrew remembers a Pakistani student who had to return to Pakistan. This didn’t impact her learning.

“She logged on every night at 8 p.m. for a 9 a.m. LiveLesson,” Andrew said. “A brick-and-mortar school isn’t able to do that; it would have been a two-month interruption of learning, but this didn’t make a difference in the quality of instruction she received from us since she was able to actively participate in our program.” 


Commonwealth Charter Academy


November 8, 2017


Learning Lab

Get weekly updates in your inbox