Promising Practices Program

Administering Organization

Columbus City Schools ESL Program; Columbus, OH

Program Name

Serving Refugees in the Columbus City Schools, Columbus OH

Program Objectives and Unique Needs Addressed

The objective of the ESL program of Columbus City Schools is to provide the academic and social services required by students whose English language skills create a barrier to educational success.  In the 1990’s, Columbus became a major refugee resettlement site for Somali families and later Somali Bantus.  Because so many of these children had not received a formal education before coming to the U.S., the ESL program began to focus on building social and academic skills along with English language acquisition.

Program Description

  • General ESL Support: The ESL program in Columbus varies according to age and English language level.  Elementary students receive 60 to 90 minutes a day of English language acquisition instruction, including a focus on literacy development.  Secondary students may choose to attend the newcomer program if they are at the beginning level or students with stronger English skills attend the middle or high school nearest their home that provides ESL service.  Many of these schools have sheltered content classes in math, science, and social studies with TESOL certified teachers as well as English language classes.
  • Newcomer Program: The newcomer program is housed at the Columbus Global Academy (CGA).  It was developed in 1999 and is a combined middle and high school specifically designed for newly arrived immigrant and refugee students with limited formal education or interrupted schooling.  Only students who test at the beginning level of English proficiency qualify for admission to the school.  After admission, students are placed in classes based on age, English proficiency, and previous school records. The school works on developing literacy and content area skills simultaneously in leveled classes based on student need and ability.  Middle school students generally attend CGA for one or two years before moving to a traditional middle or high school with an ESL program. While some high school aged students opt to transfer to a traditional high school after one or two years at CGA, many choose to remain until they are eligible to graduate or until they reach the age of 22.  About 500 students are year select to attend this newcomer program.
  • Student/Family Support: The district has a number of support personnel available for all ESL students and their families.  The initial intake center is housed in the CGA building, as is the district parent liaison office which is staffed with two Somali and two Spanish speaking liaisons to help with family issues.  Parent workshops on relevant academic and social issues are provided by this office as well for any language minority parents in the district.  They also provide translation assistance for discipline and special education meetings.  A district school psychologist and a data analyst are also housed in the building.  Professional development and teacher support personnel for the district are also available through the district office.

Resource Materials Used in Program

The school utilizes district textbooks and resources as often as possible, supplemented by material specifically created for second language students.  Specific titles are available upon request for programs wishing additional information.

Groups Served by Program

The Columbus City Schools has approximately 50,000 students, with 5,000 of those students living in homes where English is not the primary language.  The language minority population is extremely diverse, representing almost 100 countries.  The program began in the late 1970’s with a small number of Vietnamese refugees.  Today, the largest minority groups are the Latinos (about 30%), the Somalis (about 30%), and those from various West African countries (20%)  The newest refugee groups are from Iraq, Nepal, and Burma.  Columbus directly resettles about 500 refugees a year and is also a major destination city for secondary migrants.

Program Funding

The ESL department is primarily funded by the school district, supplemented by Title I and Title III funds and a Refugee School Impact Grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Program Staffing and Required Staff Training

The ESL program has one administrator, four resource teachers, 105 ESL and content area teachers, and 100 bilingual paraprofessionals.  There are also a number of support personnel including secretaries, the intake center staff, a nurse who works in the intake center, a bilingual family services staff of five, and a data analyst.  All teachers are trained to work with culturally diverse students and have state licensure in a content area as well as TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) methodology.

Program Evaluation

An annual review is held at the end of each school year to decide what policies and practices have been successful and which need revision or elimination.  We are also periodically reviewed by the Office of Civil Rights, an arm of the U.S. Department of Education.

Program Outcomes

Program effectiveness is evaluated by a combination of various types of data: the amount of progress our students make on the state English language development test (about 10% progress per year), the number of students who are performing well on state assessments (which varies from school to school), and the number of students who exit the program each year (around 10%).  Graduation rates are difficult to determine, but are probably around 60%.  For some refugee groups this number is probably even lower, because of the difficulty of making up for the years of lost education.

Additional Comments

Program Contact

Myra Talley, Instructional Support

Program Dates

The ESL Department began providing services to Columbus City School students in 1977.  The newcomer program, Columbus Global Academy, opened its doors in 1999 and is still operating as of September 2011.