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ELL program helps students transition

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ELL program helps students transition

English Language Learning teacher, Maria Otfinoski, works with students in class.

English Language Learning teacher, Maria Otfinoski, works with students in class.

Photo by Calvin Ponzio

English Language Learning teacher, Maria Otfinoski, works with students in class.

Photo by Calvin Ponzio

Photo by Calvin Ponzio

English Language Learning teacher, Maria Otfinoski, works with students in class.


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English Language Learning, ELL, is a program which helps linguistically and culturally diverse students transition into the school system. It has proven to be a helpful and successful experience for its students.

ELL provides a safe place for students and allows them to become acclimated to a new environment in a smooth and effective manner. This program consists of 180 students in the district, all from different backgrounds.

At the high school, there are currently 28 students enrolled in the ELL program. Many of the students have come from Spanish speaking countries, but there are over a dozen languages represented in the program.

Jason Aguirre and Patrick John, two former ELL students who have since graduated high school, described their experiences in the program and how it affected their high school experience. “We definitely wouldn’t have felt comfortable in MHS if it weren’t for ELL… We would always try to be in this class. If we were in another class we would ask to come here.”

Students can come to the ELL classroom if they need help or are overwhelmed.

The students explained that the hardest part of the jump into a new environment was the language barrier, but ELL helped with that shift.

There are teachers in the classroom to help out if a student needs assistance. Maria Otfinoski, the ELL teacher at the high school, said that “the program is designed to teach the students the English language.”

However, the ELL program doesn’t just help with the language barrier. Otfinoski said, “We also support our students in their academic courses, work on acculturation for newcomers and deal with everything else you can imagine for a new student coming from a different country.” There is a lot that goes into a newcomer getting settled in the school, especially in a new country and where a different language is spoken. Otfinoski said, “That student needs to learn how to navigate a school in the United States. They need to know how to navigate lunch, how to work a lock, how to figure out the new schedule, including snow days. They have to understand the school’s expectations.”

Cultural differences between countries pose a challenge to these students on top of the language barrier which separates them from the rest of the students; the ELL program aims to help students make the most of their high school education, guiding them through the process of acclimation to American high school and the process of learning a new language.

The 180 ELL students in the school system are split between five teachers: three for the elementary schools, one for the middle schools, and one for the high school. The teachers have a large task at hand, but they are committed to making their schools safe and welcoming spaces for incoming foreign students. The program has helped many students acclimate to high school in the United States and has prepared them for life beyond high school.

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ELL program helps students transition