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WIDA's Featured Educator is a monthly interview with a classroom, district, or state-level educator on how he or she is making a difference for language learners. You can honor an exceptional colleague by emailing info@wida.us with "Featured Educator Nomination" in the subject line.

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Scott Beldon: Featured Educator

October 2014

Scott Beldon is an ESL teacher at Doss High School in Louisville, KY and has been a teacher for 13 years. He helped create his district’s ESL Newcomer Academy six years ago.

photo of Scott Beldon
Scott Beldon

Q: Where do you teach? How long have you been a teacher and how long have you been at your current school?

SB: I am an ESL teacher at Doss High School, in Louisville, in the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), and I have been a classroom teacher for 13 years. Six years ago, I helped the district establish its ESL Newcomer Academy. Three years ago, I moved into Doss High School, as I wanted to help students from the Newcomer Academy transition to a high school with a regular ESL program.

Q: Can you provide a little background on your school and district?

SB: Jefferson County Public Schools has more than 100 schools and 100,855 students. The population is very diverse throughout the district. At Doss, which has Grades 9-12, we have 1,061 students enrolled, and of those, 39 percent are white, 48 percent are African American, and the rest are Hispanic/Latino or other. 78 percent qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. We are an urban school system and have a student assignment and magnet plan in place to diversify all of our schools based on a combination of economics, race, and other factors, including parent/guardians’ educational attainment.

Q: How did you become involved in teaching English language learners (ELLs)?

SB: I had the very fortunate opportunity as a 7th grade student when one of my teachers took a group of us to Europe. It had a great impact on me—it made me very open and receptive to different cultures. Little did I know at this time how much this experience would influence my future teaching career.

My background is in elementary education. My first teaching assignment was in a rural county adjacent to Jefferson County. It was a wonderful experience, but I was very interested in moving back to an urban environment, and closer to a university where I could continue developing my skills. I then worked in an elementary school that had an ESL program. I had students in my classroom from Bosnia, Cuba, and Somalia, and I really enjoyed scaffolding their learning so they could better understand the content. Also, through hearing stories of their families, I realized how much they needed not only a strong teacher, but an advocate in the community to help with acculturation and adjustment to the U. S. school system, and to life in Louisville.

Q: Can you tell us about the creation of the ESL Newcomer Academy and your transition to Doss High School?

SB: After I received my ESL endorsement, I taught at a high school that had a newcomer center. Later I was hired as a middle school ESL resource teacher and I saw a great need for a newcomer program in middle school—especially among adolescents. So I worked with other colleagues in the ESL department and the district to consolidate two existing high school newcomer centers and add a middle school component. The ESL Newcomer Academy now serves students in Grades 6-10 who are in their first year of instruction in a U.S. school. The Newcomer Academy utilizes a school-within-a-school model based on research from the Center for Applied Linguistics and on a newcomer center we visited in Columbus, OH. After two years of establishing this program, I really wanted to move to a high school with a regular ESL program to help students transition from the Newcomer Academy. That’s when I came to Doss, where I started our current ESL program.

Q: How did you go about designing the Newcomer Academy?

SB: Our ESL department wanted to make sure we had the capacity to teach all of the subject areas students would encounter in a traditional high school, and that we were following the same standards of promotion and the same core content. Teachers hired were both ESL endorsed and content certified.

It was very important to us that we maintained students in a sheltered environment for their first year in a U. S. school, so we obtained our own section of the building and lunch time. We also collaborated closely with refugee resettlement agencies, so we gave them as much information as they needed to help us spread the word.

When the word got out about this new innovative program, it naturally brought a lot of interest and attention. We had some very good media coverage and we have had both regional and international visitors. The energy and excitement was contagious. And the payoff has been incredible. Students transitioning from the Newcomer Academy have much more confidence to go into regular classrooms with American peers and are confident that they can succeed.

Q: Have you seen any long-term benefit from the Newcomer Academy?

SB: Students coming to Doss from the Newcomer Academy have a solid foundation in English, math, science and social studies content and a working knowledge of key academic language. During its first year of implementation in 2006, the Newcomer Academy served just over 200 students. During the 2013-2014 school year, more than 500 students were served. So it has grown exponentially. In talking with colleagues, students and parents, it’s clear that JCPS has developed a reputation in Louisville’s international community as having a strong district-wide ESL program.

Q: Now that you’ve transitioned from the Newcomer Academy to Doss High School, what do you see as the benefits of having an ELL program at Doss? 

SB: The Doss ESL program is now in its third year. ELLs bring a global perspective that has helped contribute positively to a cultural shift within the school. We are a school in transformation.  Many Doss students come from poverty—they haven’t had the opportunity to travel outside of the city, or maybe even their neighborhood. For them to be exposed to and interact with international students has provided a broader view of life and of the world. At the end of its second year, all of our ESL seniors graduated and all were accepted into college with financial aid and scholarships. Our American students have taken notice.

Q: How do you connect to the sociocultural context of your students and how does that relate to your work on family/parent engagement?

SB: I like to visit parents. It also helps me open a good cultural dialogue with my students. I’ll ask them what I should do when I come to their house. They’ll tell me to bring a small gift as a customary way to make a greeting, or to take my shoes off before I enter. Being culturally adept shows that you are dedicated. Soon you’ll start getting invited to church functions or other celebrations within the community. Parents notice your efforts and appreciate that sincere interest. And it really helps students’ acclimatization if their parents have a level of comfort in their children being in a school with a teacher who has reached out to their community.

Q: How has WIDA helped you achieve your goals as an educator?

SB: The annual ACCESS reports are so valuable, as they help us monitor students’ progress. If they’re not progressing at the expected level, it reinforces what we most likely observed in the classroom. ACCESS also helps us diagnose where the breakdown is happening—whether a student is struggling with processing information orally, or processing and communicating an idea or concept, or whether it is a reading issue. It gives us very valuable feedback if a student is not progressing as expected. We can see what domain they might especially be struggling with and diagnose what additional support they need. This diagnosis helps us identify students who are in need of additional support through our RTI model, based on both standards acquisition and language development needs.

Also, the Can Do Descriptors have been incredibly useful. As the Doss ESL department develops students’ Program Services Plans we refer to the chart of Can Do Descriptors to determine what types of modifications need to be utilized to help support that student in their movement from one level to the next. The fact that they’re exactly aligned with ACCESS scores makes it very user-friendly for teachers. The Can Do Descriptors are also very useful when collaborating with content teachers to aide them in making accommodations to their instruction and modifications to their assessments.


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