Medina has passion for seeing ELL students succeed in school, life

MCSD ELL coordinator Elizabeth Medina assists senior Paola Becerra in an algebra lesson before finals. Medina’s role with the ELL program involves working with all grades to help students learn English and succeed in the classroom. Becerra will be the first female ELL student to graduate from MHS. (Photo by Kim Brooks)
Panther Professionals
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Panther Professionals is a weekly series highlighting educators, administrators, staff and aides who are dedicated to the future of the Monticello Community School District.

     Growing up herself, Elizabeth Medina does not recall having a role model she could look up to… a role model who looked like her, a role model who talked Spanish like her.

     That’s why, in her role as the MCSD’s ELL (English Language Learners) coordinator, Medina hopes to be that role model for the students in her charge. (The ELL program is part of the school district’s Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Program.)

     This year, Medina has 28 students spread out among all four district centers who are part of the ELL program. Two of those kids are non-English speakers who are newcomers to the U.S. Medina said they arrived in the area in September and have never attended an American school before.

     “Some students require a lot of my time,” she said of helping to translate classroom material.

     The ELL program also two Chinese students and one from the Philippines. Medina explained these students are part of the program because although they speak English, it is not their first language at home.

     “I try to enforce with the parents that it’s vital those students keep their first language to excel in their second language (English),” explained Medina. “It provides a foundation to work from.”

     Medina said if students didn’t maintain that first language, it would create a gap between them and their parents.

     “That gap translates into the community and creates problems with identity,” she added.

     She said it’s also important these students know their tradition as well.

     “For the most part, these students are very comfortable here,” Medina shared of moving into a new community and attending a new school. “They like the community.”

     She said their biggest challenges aren’t school related, but external issues.

     There are two goals of the ELL program:

     • Help students develop their English when speaking, reading and writing.

     • Help the students to function socially and academically.

     “That’s a whole other ballgame,” said Medina.

     Eleven years ago, Medina was initially hired to teach Spanish at the high school, as well as to provide extra support for the at-risk program. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that the district developed the ELL program.

     “We had very low numbers at first,” recalled Medina.

     Clearly, the program has dramatically increased in such a short period of time.

     “That’s the trend across the country,” said Medina. “People move to certain areas because of family connections. Jobs is also a big factor and accessibility to schools.”

     For Medina, Spanish was her first language. “I was an ELL student when there was no program like this. I had to navigate without help in translating.”

     Medina stayed with her roots on into college, earning a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and multi-national organizational studies from St. Mary’s University. Basically Medina earned a linguistics degree in world languages.

     She then received a master’s degree in cross-cultural education from National University.

     Medina has an endorsement in ELL from Morningside College. Both Medina and Rebecca DeWitte are the only ones with an ELL endorsement in the MCSD.

     “We co-teach the ELL high school class,” said Medina.

     Medina has a background in law enforcement, aside from education; however, she said it wasn’t her forte.

     “As a peace officer I saw kids struggling,” she recalled. “But it wasn’t my calling.”

     That struggle is another reason Medina wanted to help ELL students immerse themselves into society.

     While they might understand common English terms, she explained academic English is not too common for them.

     “It’s a higher level of English,” she said. “So I help them sift through the language barrier and see if they can understand the content.” That assistance might involve rephrasing what the teacher said in class or asking the question in Spanish.

     This assistant Medina provides also entails more knowledge and background on her part, having to know the basics of the various courses her ELL students are in. “The high school level is even more complex,” she said.

     Working with kids in all four buildings, Medina spends time in the classrooms and working one-on-one or in small groups with the ELL students.

     “This year we have a couple of ELL elementary students in the special education program, so I co-teach with Andrea Janssen,” she said. “It’s bi-lingual teaching.”

     At the end of this school year, Medina is proud to say that four kids will be exiting the ELL program. “This is the first year we’ve had this happen,” she said. “They’ve shown mastery of the (English) language, and independently they’re doing well.”

     Medina also provides after-school and summer ELL programs, working with Callie Smith.

     “We tutor the kids, help them with homework and Callie provides the cultural piece,” explained Medina. They take the kids to stores, restaurants, bowling, and the library to provide an opportunity get out into the community and use their English language skills.

     “The intent is that the more they’re involved in the community, it’s not as foreign to them anymore, and they feel a part of the community.”

     The ELL parents also rely heavily on Medina for support.

     “I’m their source of communication with the school,” she said. Medina will help translate between the teachers and parents at conferences or when there’s an issue in the classroom.

     “We want them (the parents) included in their child’s education as much as possible,” Medina said.

     Outside of the ELL program, Medina is also a part of the district-wide cultural initiative to boost and maintain positivity throughout the district. Treats are presented to teachers for special occasions/birthdays. “We want everyone to know that they are supported,” said Medina.

     “We want to work as one district even though we’re in different buildings,” she said.

     The cultural initiative also provides potlucks during professional develop days.

     “It’s about building an identity and comradery,” added Medina.

     Overall Medina said her mission is to simply see all of the ELL students succeed. “If it takes more of my time to make this happen, it’s a good trade off,” she said. “There can be some hard, long days, but that’s part of the job.”

     Medina and her husband and two children reside in Marion. Her daughter attends Iowa State University, and they have a son in eighth grade.

     “We spend time as a family. We have a lot of family activities,” said Medina.



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