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Sandra Rodríguez-Arroyo

Transforming the Future of ESL Education

Success for English Language Learners Begins in the Classroom

November 2018

In the past decade, the number of English Language Learners (ELLs) in Nebraska has increased 34 percent. In one Omaha school alone, Dr. Sandra Rodríguez-Arroyo reports 60 percent of students are ELLs, speaking a different language at home. That’s a significant amount of young people who need the right language education, early, so they’re enabled to enrich their Nebraska communities in the long term.

To Rodríguez-Arroyo, Associate Professor of Teacher Education at UNO, that means it’s time to expand how we think of English as a Second Language (ESL) education altogether. While it used to be adequate for a school to have one or two specialized ESL teachers, today’s diverse student population requires all educators to be prepared to work with English Language Learners. “There’s definitely a shortage [of general educators with ESL training], especially in rural Nebraska,” she says.

In her work at UNO, Rodríguez-Arroyo is preparing future teachers of all kinds for their everchanging classroom makeup. Many of her students’ don’t at first understand that ESL education is a two-way street. “We are providing a service; we are learning from them.”

"Today's diverse student population requires all educators to be prepared to work with English Language Learners."

So how does that new approach translate to real life? Through students like Gaby Amador, a UNO senior who is on track to graduate in May 2019. “My parents aren’t very fluent in English, and growing up I watched them struggle to communicate with my teachers. As a teacher, I want to help parents like mine feel comfortable,” she says. Amador spent several semesters supporting college prep for ELL families by giving campus tours and providing financial aid literacy classes. For her efforts, Rodríguez-Arroyo nominated Amador for the prestigious Outstanding Service Learning Student Award. Amador is a prime example of what’s possible when you’re prepared to connect not only with students, but their families as well.

If predictions hold true, the population of the state will only continue to become more diverse. With the continued support and fresh thinking of experts like Rodríguez-Arroyo, Nebraska classrooms will be prepared to welcome ELL students with open arms and confidence.

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