Garland ISD creates multi-lingual online learning website for ESL students

As parents try to navigate online learning with schools across Texas closed, North Texas school districts are trying to meet the needs of students who speak English as a second language.

Online learning has been an adjustment for students and teachers, but several local districts are taking an extra step to try and make sure they continue to connect with all of their student body, including ESL students.    

Abigail Rufer teaches Algebra to ESL students at Thomas Jefferson High School now online by video conference.

“For those students, this type of challenge is a mountain where for others it might be a hill,” she said.

Rufer says part of the challenge is being flexible to each students’ different needs and circumstances during this time.

“If you can’t access the Zoom, ok I’ll record it for you so you can still watch the class. Or if you cannot complete the assignment at this time because you work until 10 at night, that’s ok for you to complete it after,” she said. “Or if you don’t have internet connection, here’s a picture of a paper assignment.”

The community at Thomas Jefferson High was already upended by the October tornado. They are now separated again because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s incredibly emotionally wearing on our teachers and our students to have these huge, I would consider them, traumatic events to have that space taken away from you,” Rufer said. “Especially for our kids twice.”

At Garland ISD, staff had just a weekend to get a full website up and running in English, Spanish and Vietnamese for their students. Nearly 30 percent of their student body are English language learners.

“That was kind of at the forefront of everything that we developed,” said Melissa Hill, Garland ISD’s director of teaching and learning development. “It was to make sure we weren't meeting the needs of just our English speaking students, but make sure all of our materials were accessible to all of our students.”

According to Google Analytics, the district says the website is also being used across the country and across the globe as a model for others around the world.

“We have over 90,000 different users. And that's from our community, and then across the globe,” said Garland ISD Digital Learning Coordinator Angie Cheatham. “We've had users from all 50 states in the US, but then also 59 countries around the globe. So everything from Argentina, all the way to Vietnam.”

The site has also been shared with other districts across the state to help ESL students with online learning.

“We're all in this together,” Cheatham said. “And we're going to continue educating our students, no matter where we're at.”

School officials say they’re still constantly learning ways they can improve online learning and have also set up support through email, websites and other tutorial videos to help parents and students through this time.