Bellevue English Learners program provides support

Jacki Petrow, Editor-in-Chief

Bellevue’s English Learners (EL) program is dedicated to supporting students who speak a language other than English at home and who benefit from additional support. 

A test, called ELPA21, is administered to students entering kindergarten who speak a different language at home. It determines someone’s English proficiency, and is supported by state employees including Anne Hubbel, the Nebraska Department of Education’s English-learner specialist.

“If [students] have enough English, that they’re proficient, they don’t need to have services,” Hubbell said. “If they don’t have enough English, then we need to make sure that we provide them adequate services, so that they can access the content and also improve in their language skills.”

Barbara Caples, the EL teacher at Bellevue West, rejected the often incorrect stereotype that EL is for students born in another country who are just starting to learn English.

“A lot of kids are born in the US, and they speak a different language at home until they enter kindergarten, at which point, you know, they’re at a disadvantage, because all of the other kids are speaking English, and the teacher is speaking English,” Caples said. “So that’s when they enter the program.”

This service is being provided to 375 students across BPS. Junior Dafne Garcia was a part of the program in elementary school and said that she is now one of the best English speakers in her family.

“I think it has helped me significantly considering where I am now,” Garcia said. “And a couple of my other family members have also used this program and they also speak English very well.”

In 1964 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that non-English speaking students must be given English instruction for a fair education, setting the stage for the creation of many of these programs. Hubbell said that the basis of them is to make sure that students are learning both English and curriculum content.

The opportunities that are offered by the BPS EL department, however, go beyond teaching students. Susan Fjelstad is the EL coordinator for BPS, in charge of implementing state guidelines and supporting families involved with the program.

She said that, in addition to regularly meeting with EL parents through the PADRES program, “provide adult English classes for parents wanting to learn English.”

Overall, Garcia said that she had a positive experience in this program. 

“I do remember making really good friends with other people that also understood what I was going through, like not understanding English completely,” Garcia said. “I made really good friends at the time. The teachers were really nice. It was a pretty good environment.”