Closing the Opportunity Gap for Language Learners - City of Lakes AmeriCorps

Nearly one quarter (24.3%) of students in the Minneapolis Public School District are English Language Learners (ELLs), including Long Term English Learners (LTELs) and recent immigrants. LTELs have been enrolled in American schools for several years, but are not progressing toward academic English proficiency which creates a barrier for learning in other subjects.

As LTELs excel in social English, they often receive less targeted services for language, despite a continued need for support in academic contexts. In Minneapolis Public Schools, a unique partnership with City of Lakes AmeriCorps provides critical support for middle school LTELs. City of Lakes members tutor during the school day, lead afterschool programs, and engage families in their child’s education. Since launching in 1994, members have tutored more than 10,205 youth who otherwise would have continued to struggle in school because of limited academic English skills.

Second year City of Lakes AmeriCorps member Matthew Terhaar served at Andersen United Community School, where the majority of students are ELL (72%). Most of Matthew’s students spoke Spanish as their first language and had been receiving ELL service for at least five years.

During the day, Matthew stepped into classes to provide support and also worked with groups using a focused curriculum to improve their academic English. “My students are fluent in social English,” Matthew said. “To talk to them, you might not know they’re English Language Learners, but they fall behind in academic English.” This makes some subjects, such as science, history, and English Language Arts, particularly difficult. In the classroom, Matthew could help explain directions or new concepts.

Outside of class, Matthew taught groups of two to four students using a curriculum designed for LTELs which focuses on practicing academic vocabulary through reading texts, conversing, and writing. The small group dynamic gives students the opportunity to interact and learn how to have academic discussions with one another. Students take assessments to measure their mastery of each lesson, but Matthew said he was most proud of their growth when he saw them applying concepts. “When they can connect what we do in tutoring to the classroom, that’s when I know they are succeeding,” he said.

City of Lakes AmeriCorps members also design and lead their own afterschool programs. This gives members a chance to be creative and connect with different students than they work with during the day. Some of Matthew’s classes have involved music, cooking, and scavenger hunts to engage students’ imaginations and curiosity. In 20 years of service, more than 15,700 youth have benefitted from before or after school programs through City of Lakes AmeriCorps.

City of Lakes AmeriCorps also strives to engage families in their children’s education. Matthew and the three other members serving at Andersen coordinated three family nights each year. “It’s important to create a positive connection between families and the school,” he said. Matthew called each family once or twice a month and wrote a monthly newsletter to keep families informed.

Strong partnerships with teachers, students, and families provide students with the best support to thrive. Through their dedicated service, City of Lakes members are closing the opportunity gap for language learners in Minneapolis Public Schools and helping students achieve their full potential. 

Matthew working with a student. 

Matthew working with a student.