Pandemic creates obstacles for English language learners

Juan Ramos Larios is enrolled in Decatur City Schools’ EXCEL center for students not proficient in English, and the coronavirus pandemic has complicated his education by leading to more virtual instruction.

Posted: Dec 27, 2020 9:09 PM

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) — Juan Ramos Larios is enrolled in Decatur City Schools’ EXCEL center for students not proficient in English, and the coronavirus pandemic has complicated his education by leading to more virtual instruction.

“I don’t learn the best when on the computer,” Larios said. “When I can’t see everyone’s mouths to watch what they are saying, it is so hard to know exactly what is expected. A lot of times I don’t want to ask someone to repeat the instructions because everyone else seems to have understood.”

Larios is not alone.

In addition to virtual learning obstacles, students who aren’t fluent in English face pandemic-related challenges from the use of masks and and reduced time around English speakers, according to educators and students.

Kellie Tanner, Morgan County Schools director of federal programs, said students who aren’t fluent in English rely on situations in which they can immerse themselves in the language — and these opportunities are harder to come by during the pandemic.

“A lot of them are remote, and then of course there for a few months (last spring), everyone was remote, so there were several months there that they just did not get to be surrounded by the English language like they are in a typical school year,” Tanner said.

Tanner added that even students taking in-person classes have had less interaction with English speakers this year because of quarantines due to COVID-19 exposure.

Decatur City Schools transitioned to virtual learning for all students on Dec. 14 and will remain virtual after the holiday break until Jan. 13 due to a high number of COVID-19 exposures and cases among students and employees. As a result, students districtwide, including those like Larios who rely on in-person instruction for optimal learning, will spend nearly five weeks out of the classroom.

“It’s so important for these non-English speakers to be around the English language because they learn so much from their peers and from their teachers,” Tanner said.

Decatur City Schools English language collaborative specialist Mary Ann Hotaling said the pandemic has slowed progress for students learning English through the district’s EXCEL center, which was established in 2016.

“The progress of all students has been affected by this pandemic, not just our English language learners and not just here in Decatur. This is a nationwide issue,” Hotaling said.

Hotaling said despite the difficulties the pandemic has created, the EXCEL center is continuing to set high expectations for students and staff.

“Here at DCS, excuses are not an option. We need to meet our students where they are and where our community will allow, given the circumstances,” Hotaling said.

Hotaling said about 95% of EXCEL students are learning in-person.

“We have a few students learning virtually. Of course, there are challenges that come with virtual learning. However, we want to meet each student’s needs at their comfort level,” Hotaling said.

FACE SHIELD SOULTION

Masks pose another challenge to English language learners. Hotaling said EXCEL center staff use face shields to make it easier for students to understand what they’re saying.

“Learning phonetics and literacy has a lot of similarities at any age, regardless if it is elementary or secondary. So, using face shields is crucial for EXCEL students so they can see the formation of our mouth, and hear clearly the sounds we are vocalizing and making during instruction,” she said.

Larios has found learning harder this year even though EXCEL center principal Ressa Chittam said he is about 90% fluent in English.

“Juan is a traditional face-to-face student who enjoys being around others. He is very social and knows everyone. Learning while everyone wears a mask has made keeping up with classes and understanding the teachers’ instructions very difficult,” Chittam said. “On days when the system has gone virtual, Juan has found it hard to do his work virtually because he needs that one-on-one communication and explanation from his teachers to fully understand his work.”

IN-PERSON VS. VIRTUAL LEARNING

EXCEL center junior Katerin Aguilar, who Chittam said is about 40% fluent in English, started the school year virtually. Like Larios, Aguilar struggled to learn virtually.

“She was a virtual student for the first nine weeks of school but had difficulty doing the work on (the) computer, because she needed the one-on-one from the teachers and was hesitant to ask questions on a Google class meet,” Chittam said.

Aguilar said school is easier now that she’s returned to in-person class.

“Doing work on computers is harder than doing work on paper,” Aguilar said. “Staying disciplined to get online every day while at home was hard to do. Coming to class was easier and what I am used to doing and how I learn the best.”

Aleyda Javier, a sophomore at West Morgan High, said the pandemic has impacted all English language learners.

Although she is almost fluent in English, Javier said wearing a mask makes it more difficult to communicate.

Like Javier, West Morgan High sophomore Shadee Yafai said it’s harder to communicate due to COVID-19. He said it’s harder both to understand others and to be understood while wearing a mask. Yafai is from Yemen and has been attending West Morgan High for about six months.

Also of concern for non-English speaking students is that their parents aren’t always able to help them with their school work, Tanner said. Morgan County Schools announcements are sent out in multiple languages to accommodate families, while homework assignments are not. Although this problem existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been exacerbated by a greater number of students doing their school work from home.

“We always make information available to our parents in their native language, whatever they speak, but … it’s just so difficult to help your child when you yourself don’t have that language capability to help them,” Tanner said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 268672

Reported Deaths: 5917
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17928195
Hinds17030337
Harrison14510212
Rankin11315223
Jackson11054193
Lee9109147
Madison8663171
Jones6853120
Forrest6260125
Lauderdale6161196
Lowndes5582123
Lafayette5269101
Lamar508765
Washington4965125
Bolivar4164110
Oktibbeha411585
Panola389881
Pontotoc380460
Monroe3727111
Warren3716103
Marshall360172
Union360165
Pearl River3527106
Neshoba3516158
Leflore3132110
Lincoln308389
Hancock300963
Sunflower294277
Tate281862
Alcorn274055
Pike272984
Itawamba271263
Scott264055
Yazoo258456
Prentiss255454
Coahoma252455
Copiah251549
Tippah251551
Simpson244872
Leake238967
Marion228274
Covington224873
Grenada224673
Wayne216336
Adams216271
Winston208271
George206440
Newton201447
Attala197465
Tishomingo196361
Chickasaw190245
Jasper183138
Holmes172568
Clay168637
Tallahatchie158035
Stone153625
Clarke148762
Calhoun142022
Smith131926
Yalobusha124935
Walthall115438
Greene114929
Noxubee114526
Montgomery112936
Lawrence107917
Carroll106922
Perry105931
Amite102727
Webster98024
Claiborne90125
Tunica89621
Jefferson Davis89330
Benton86923
Humphreys85625
Kemper81220
Quitman7169
Franklin71017
Choctaw64013
Wilkinson60125
Jefferson57321
Sharkey45717
Issaquena1616
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 445909

Reported Deaths: 6896
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson651891049
Mobile32138590
Madison28596223
Tuscaloosa21703276
Montgomery20220336
Shelby19584138
Baldwin17496216
Lee13378109
Morgan12741145
Etowah12196189
Calhoun11626228
Marshall10513126
Houston9097168
Limestone842481
Cullman8363125
Elmore8283112
Lauderdale7986112
DeKalb7935112
St. Clair7915139
Talladega6552112
Walker6068184
Jackson605649
Colbert560194
Blount551794
Autauga544065
Coffee470569
Dale415186
Franklin378150
Russell362816
Chilton348079
Covington344681
Escambia342244
Tallapoosa3184109
Dallas314197
Chambers308575
Clarke307339
Pike267735
Lawrence256958
Marion255763
Winston235243
Bibb224751
Geneva214747
Marengo212031
Pickens201831
Barbour188240
Hale187444
Fayette181230
Butler175960
Cherokee167433
Henry161325
Monroe153521
Randolph148236
Washington144027
Clay131050
Crenshaw126245
Macon124337
Cleburne123627
Lamar121324
Lowndes117636
Wilcox109422
Bullock105829
Perry100518
Conecuh98222
Sumter90828
Greene78323
Coosa64619
Choctaw52224
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Cloudy
36° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 28°
Columbus
Cloudy
36° wxIcon
Hi: 49° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 26°
Oxford
Cloudy
32° wxIcon
Hi: 46° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 24°
Starkville
Cloudy
36° wxIcon
Hi: 55° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 29°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather