PISCATAWAY, NJ — With increasing numbers of foreign-born students residing in Middlesex County, and more living in homes where English is not the only language spoken, the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE), is working to strengthen instruction to improve the academic performance of Bilingual/English as a Second Language (ESL) students.

Among the initiatives are a series of statewide Bilingual/ESL Consortium meetings, comprised of school administrators and NJDOE representatives. The meetings are intended to support New Jersey administrators in designing programs so English Language Learners (ELLs), effectively transition to U.S. schools and achieve academic success, and raise awareness of the benefits of being bilingual in the workplace. The meetings are also focused on ensuring districts comply with federal and state guidelines.

A Bilingual/ESL Consortium meeting for about 30 Middlesex County administrators was recently facilitated by Executive Middlesex County Superintendent of Schools at the Educational Services Commission of New Jersey’s (ESCNJ) Professional Development Academy Media Center.

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The meeting included Mrs. Hernández-Manno reviewing statistics illustrating why the effort is particularly significant throughout the state, and Middlesex County in particular.

Mrs. Hernández-Manno pointed out that 19 of the 21 counties in New Jersey have significant numbers of foreign-born students, or students where a language other than English is spoken at home. Based on a review of county/towns census data, households speaking a language other than English grew to 42.7 percent in Middlesex County as of 2016, well above New Jersey’s average of 30.7 percent, and double the nationwide average of 21.1 percent.

By the same token, foreign-born students residing in Middlesex County was estimated at 32.1 percent, higher than the state’s 21.8 percent average, and nearly three times the 13.2 percent average across the country.

“The numbers continue to rise, and resources are limited, so we are trying to help districts find creative approaches to help students achieve academic success, and meet federal and state mandates,” said Mrs. Hernández-Manno.

A cornerstone of the effort is studying the book Transforming Schools for English Learners, “A Comprehensive Framework for School Leaders,” by Debbie Zacarian, Ed.D. , whose expertise is advancing student achievement in culturally and linguistically diverse populations. The book offers practical suggestions for administrators, policymakers, and stakeholders on curriculum development, and establishing an environment where ELLs can be successful.

Information about the NJDOE’s language assistance efforts can be found at: http://www.nj.gov/education/bilingual/.

The largest Educational Services Commission in the state, the ESCNJ provides special education services to school districts statewide, coordinates transportation services for over 10,000 students across the state, and manages a Co-op Pricing System with over 1,100 members.