Promising Practices Program

Administering Organization

Boise School District, English Language Learner Program

Program Name

Serving Refugee Students in the Boise School District

Program Objectives and Unique Needs Addressed

The goals for refugee students in the Boise School District include the following:

  • Goal 1: To use English to communicate in social settings
  • Goal 2: To use English to achieve academically in all content areas 
  • Goal 3: To use English in socially and culturally appropriate ways

Program Description

Refugee students in the Boise School District receive the following instructional and supportive services through the district's program for English Language Learners:

Elementary Schools: Twelve elementary schools in Boise have certified English Language Learner teachers; however, there are 4 schools that receive the majority of refugee students. Students are taught English through a sheltered instruction model, which involves using core content material as a vehicle for learning English. Some refugee students also receive additional instructional support from paraprofessionals, who work with refugee students in small groups. Some of the paraprofessionals are refugees or immigrants themselves.

Boise Language Academy: The Boise Language Academy opened its doors in 2000, though the district had earlier versions of a newcomer program as far back as the 1980's. This is the first year (2008) the Boise Language Academy has had their own facility - they're using a former elementary school. The Boise Language Academy serves refugee and immigrant students in grades 7 to 12 with limited previous formal education. Newcomer students can choose whether to enroll in their local mainstream school or to attend the academy, though over 99% of foreign-born students with limited formal schooling choose to attend the academy. The students take courses in core content and learn English through a sheltered content model. Additional supportive services such as counseling, physical education, and social work are available to newcomer students. There is also a "youth mentor" who serves as a male role model for students and facilitates alternatives to detention and suspension, such as service learning projects. Overall, students may attend the academy for up to four semesters. When they transition out of the academy, all schools continue English language development support along with other activities to support the successful integration of refugee and immigrant youth into their home schools.

Parent Involvement: The district has a group called "Boise Parents of English Learners" (BPEL). Each school in the district has on-site BPEL meetings and parent involvement has become a normal part of the school culture. The district also has two "BPEL nights" during the year. The first, which occurs in late fall, is a chance for the district to conduct a needs assessment with ELL parents. Refugee and immigrant parents throughout the district attend and are divided into focus groups by language, where they are given an opportunity to provide input to administrators. The second BPEL night occurs in the spring and is an awards presentation and talent night. Busses were initially provided as a means of transportation; however, it was discovered that parents preferred caravanning and sharing rides.

Resource Materials Used in Program

Groups Served by Program

The Boise School District is currently instructing children who speak 88 languages. The main foreign-born populations in the Boise schools are African, Mesketian Turks, and Iraqis.

The number of students enrolled in the Boise Language Academy fluctuates; however, at the start of the 2008 school year, there were 230 students enrolled. Approximately two thirds of the students are refugees. There are approximately 751 English Language Learners at the elementary level in the district and approximately 346 of those are refugees.

Program Funding

The services for refugee students in the Boise schools are partially funded by a Refugee School Impact Grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement. In addition, the program is funded by Title I, State LEP, Title III, Safe & Drug Free Schools, and District funding.

Program Staffing and Required Staff Training

Elementary Schools:

  • 12 teachers certified in English Language Learning
  • 3 full time and 2 part time paraprofessionals that specifically work with refugee students 
  • Many other Title I and ELL paraprofessionals that work with students Boise

Language Academy:

  • 14 teachers
  • 1 administrator 
  • 1 full time counselor 
  • 1 part time youth mentor 
  • 1 full time physical education program coordinator 
  • 1 part time social worker

Program Evaluation

Two News Articles about the Boise Language Academy: 

Program Outcomes

Boise Language Academy: 

  • In the 2007-08 school year, 97% of refugee students improved their scores on the Idaho English Language Assessment
  • In the past two school years (2006-2008), the drop out rate for refugee students at the academy has been zero percent 
  • When refugee students have transitioned to their local high schools, their drop out rates have been significantly lower than their native born counterparts (1% or less for refugee students at the 3 most impacted high schools, compared with 10% for native born students)

Additional Comments

The Boise School District is putting together a Refugee Mental Health Task Force to work on strategies for addressing refugee students' psychosocial needs that are impacting learning and classroom behavior.

The Academy has provided an intensive language and academic acceleration for students along with a place that softens the impact a bit for culture shock and transition into American schools. When the initial version was disbanded in the late 80's, student drop out rates shot up as academic achievement went down. After reestablishment in 2000, drop out rates continued to decrease and achievement increased. We would love to provide mini-academies within each of our 13 secondary schools. However, with limited resources, our data (and most importantly the students!) show us that by concentrating resources in this program, students are provided with a better foundation for academic and social/emotional success in the long term. Obviously, this support has to continue in the home schools as students transition as well.

Program Contact

Dr. Ann Farris
Boise School District Federal Programs Supervisor
(208) 854-4000

Program Dates

The Boise School District's English Language Learner program has been operating since the mid-70's. In particular, the Boise Language Academy has been operating since 2000 and moved into its own site in August of 2008.