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UPDATED: Fort Wayne Community Schools honored for its work with students learning English language

Fort Wayne Community Schools has been honored by the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) for its efforts to work with students for whom English is a new or second language.

The IDOE announced Friday that FWCS is the first-ever recipient of the Title III Distinguished Indiana School District Award.

FWCS is the state’s largest public school district and serves families speaking more than 70 languages.

“It was so many people working together,” Emily Schwartz-Keirns, FWCS’ manager of English Language Learning (ELL) program, said of FWCS receiving the state award.

ELL teachers, regular classroom teachers, school staff, and FWCS translators and interpreters all contribute to helping immigrant and refugee students learn and become proficient in English, Schwartz-Keirns said. That also includes working with the students’ families, who can include parents who don’t speak English.

The school district was selected to receive the Title III award “after demonstrating a commitment to English Learner success through strategic programming, rigorous instruction, inclusive school culture and beneficial partnerships with families and the community,” the IDOE announcement said.

FWCS’ award selection came after a review of English Learner performance data from public school districts and charter schools statewide, which was followed by a two-part interview process including an on-site visit, the announcement said.

“I applaud the dedicated work of the students, families, staff and communities of Fort Wayne Community Schools,” Jennifer McCormick, Indiana superintendent of public instruction, said in the announcement. “Under the leadership of Superintendent Wendy Robinson and Director Emily Schwartz-Keirns, Fort Wayne Community Schools represents the vision of working together for student success by ensuring English Learners, and all children, have opportunities to succeed.”

Title III of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires school districts to ensure that children who have limited proficiency in English “attain English proficiency, develop high levels of academic attainment in English, and meet the same challenging state academic content and student academic achievement standards as all children are expected to meet,” it said on the IDOE website, https://www.doe.in.gov/elme/title-iii-language-instruction-limited-english-proficient-and-immigrant-students.

FWCS currently has about 2,700 children in its Limited English Proficient learning programs for kindergarten through grade 12, Schwartz-Keirns said.

About 7,000 children in the district come from families where another language is spoken on a full-time or partial basis at home, she said. For that reason, FWCS provides interpretive and translation help for families, including translating notes before sending them home to parents and having interpreters make school calls to parents.

Students in the ELL program are enrolled in regular classes, Schwartz-Keirns said. Elementary students get some help in class from ELL teachers, she said. Middle and high school students have ELL classes built into their schedules along with other academic classes.

Research shows it takes most ELL students five to seven years to become proficient academically in English, Schwartz-Keirns said.

But ELL work and the results are very rewarding, she said.

“I’m extremely proud” of FWCS receiving the award, she said.

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