Opinion | Iowan English Language Learner classes need to be integrated

Language classes can’t focus purely on the language — they must also teach about the culture and people.

Zeina Aboushaar, Opinions Columnist

Language is the most insightful weapon that mankind attains, but it can also be the most blinding. As a young girl, I came to America with dreams of prosperity and triumph and it seemed as if the brightest of the stars couldn’t emulate my passion and light. However, not knowing English it felt as if I was engulfed by darkness. In order to break down the barrier standing between me and my dreams I pushed myself everyday to learn English. Whether it be watching movies, observing as my cousins and school communicated, or even listened to music. Sadly, it all had to occur outside of school. I realized that by immersing myself in the culture, I was able to learn more English in two months than any ELL (English Language Learner) class could teach me in a year. 

Language and culture are intertwined to such an extent to where one can not survive without the other. It seems as if the school system fails to comprehend that. Instead of integrating ELL students with the regular class, many times ELL students are isolated and kept in their own classes which does not allow for comprehensive advancement in the learning process. According to Edutopia, teachers best support their ELL students by incorporating ELL students with full inclusion into the class in order for ELL programs to achieve proficiency they need to be integrated within native English-speaking students. 

A study by UCF states that if ELL students do not have the tools and teachers necessary to guide them, then these students will struggle academically.

ELL students should no longer be secluded in classrooms by themselves. In order to be catered to for success, ELL students need to be integrated in a mainstream classroom in addition to one-on-one instruction. 

This is very relevant because of the large influx of ESL students entering the classrooms in Iowa every year because of the growing immigrant population. Iowa has a small but continuously growing population of immigrants. American Immigration Council states that 6 percent of Iowa residents are immigrants, while 5 percent of residents are native-born U.S. citizens with at least one immigrant parent. 

Instead of placing ELL students in individual classes that are only geared to teach them the basics of English, there should be a mix of integrated classes that prepare students for the future. 

Although it’s essential to get one-on-one instruction, it’s also crucial to the learning of students to learn the culture and the customs of the language they’re learning and the environment they’re preparing to enter, either to further their education or enter career fields. 

The way that these programs are organized and operated convey a message to the ELL students. If ELL students are heavily separated from native English-speaking students it can lead to unintended effects on the student’s learning, sense of cultural belonging, self worth, and academic potential. 

ELL students undergo many hardships before reaching this point in their lives, where they depend on the school system for assistance in assimilating in a new culture. These hardships do not make them any less than any other students —  rather, I would argue they build resilience and passion like no other. It is discriminatory to trap their bright minds in classrooms where they often feel misplaced and isolated.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.