While the disruptions of 2020 have threatened learning loss for nearly all students across the country, the toll has been especially severe for students from immigrant homes where English is rarely if ever spoken.
In-person instruction is essential for these students, teachers, parents and experts say. Not only are they surrounded by spoken English in their classrooms; they also learn in more subtle ways, by observing teachers’ facial expressions and other students’ responses to directions. Teachers, too, depend on nonverbal gestures to understand their students. All these things are far more difficult to perceive through a screen.
And beyond the classroom, these students, known as English-language learners, absorb incalculable amounts of information about syntax, slang and vocabulary by simply hanging out in hallways and playgrounds with other students — experiences that have been lost for most New York schoolchildren this year.
“For English-language learners, if you’re not having those casual, informal, low-stakes opportunities to practice English, you’re really at a disadvantage,” said Sita Patel, a clinical psychology professor at Palo Alto University who studies the emotional health of immigrant youth.
Those concerns are playing out across the country. Parts of Virginia, California and Maryland are beginning to see E.L.L. students fall more behind than their peers, according to early fall data from each school district. In Connecticut, attendance is becoming a larger issue for English learners, who were second only to homeless students in their drop in attendance in virtual and in-person classes.
In New York City, the Department of Education does not yet have estimates on learning loss for the city’s roughly 142,000 English language learner students — among the largest populations of English learners in the country. It is also not clear how many of those students opted into hybrid as opposed to full-remote learning.
Officials with the city’s Department of Education said they had instructed schools to prioritize English learners in deciding who will be allowed to return to full-time in-person classes, and insisted they were leveraging every available resource to bolster remote learning.
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