How Churches can Build Bridges for English Language Learners

It’s not news to say that many public schools have high concentrations on ELL or English Language Learners with their student bodies. In fact, recent data shows that nearly 10% of public school students in the US are English Language Learners.

Churches often form early bonds with newly immigrated families as sources of moral and spiritual support, loving community, and local expertise. So it seems natural that churches can build bridges for families learning English both in school and out.

Dr. Andrea Ramirez, Executive Director of the Faith and Education Coalition, recently interviewed Elda Rojas, an education consultant who has worked for more than two decades to improve education equity and access for all students but especially for Newcomers/English language learners in Christianity Today. Their conversation highlights how Christians can support English Language Learners. As of 2014, more than 9 percent of US public school students do not speak English as their first language—and that number is growing. Below is an excerpt from the interview CLICK HERE to read the whole piece and leave a comment to let us know how your church is serving ELLs.

Can you speak a little bit about how Christians and churches can minister to English Language Learners and their families?

One thing I learned during my years as a student was that I wasn’t the only one adjusting to a new land, language and culture. The Lord positioned me to prepare me, so I’ve been able to help others along the way.

The church has a wonderful opportunity for ministry because we’re told in the great commission to go and make disciples throughout the nations. And right here in the United States there are many different nations represented. In Texas, where I live, according to the last census count, there are more than 164 languages spoken. In Dallas alone, 42 percent of the population is composed of English language learners. For the church, there’s a great opportunity to reach out to others. In regards to the parents, it’s great to have the opportunity to reach out to the newcomer students, help our own children understand that it’s fine to reach out to these new students, to invite them in, to help them acclimate, to help them understand the new process here in this land.

You mentioned earlier that the church family can play a role, student to student and parent to parent, as they encourage one another. We often hear from Spanish-only parents that they may be hesitant to ask a question because they don’t understand English or the American school culture. So relationships in the church offer safe and trusted opportunities for asking questions about school and the community. This is a unique support the family of faith brings to education.

As the number of English Language Learners has tripled in our schools, the need for community support is increasing as well.

Wherever we live, in America, we have the opportunity to meet English language learners and to minister to them, to help their families feel welcome. It’s a great opportunity for churches to lead the way in reaching out to families and to help them learn a new system. Everything about the education system here is different for them.



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