After Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) in 2017, many students and their families migrated to the U.S. mainland, leading to a decrease in the USVI student population. Meanwhile, the number of English learners in USVI has almost doubled since 2011, from 3.5% to almost 7% during the 2019/20 school year. Given this increase, the Virgin Islands Department of Education (VIDE) identified two priorities for this growing population: improving the academic achievement of English learners and ensuring equitable access to high-quality instruction. To begin work on these priority areas, VIDE partnered with REL Northeast & Islands to support and enhance teachers’ use of evidence-based practices and data to inform instruction for English learners.
Defining English Learner Program Vision and Creating a Logic Model
After meeting with our REL Northeast & Islands team, VIDE was eager to begin their projects focused on the English learner (EL) program. As a first step, we developed a state-level logic model for their EL program, using REL Northeast & Islands’ Logic Model Workshop Toolkit. Logic models are an effective tool for helping define a program’s intended impact and goals and where to focus the outcomes.
At the beginning of last year, my REL colleague, Carrie Parker, and I facilitated a one-day meeting with VIDE staff, the English learner coordinators for both St. Croix and St. Thomas, and other relevant staff from both districts. During this meeting, we asked the VIDE team to examine their program’s goals and vision statement. After some rich discussions regarding their program’s short-, medium-, and long-term goals, the group drafted a vision statement that embraces the education of EL students as the work of all educators—not just English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers. They also agreed on four key areas for their EL Program Logic Model:
- Providing high-quality human and material resources
- Implementing multiple and coordinated evidence-based practices and strategies to meet diverse needs
- Affirming and embracing EL learner and family cultural assets
- Providing sufficient administrative support
By the end of the meeting, the VIDE team had outlined most of the sections of the logic model as well as a theory of action. Participants were engaged in this process and left excited to finish the work they had started. After the meeting, our team sent the draft logic model to the VIDE team for review and further discussion.
Refining English Learner Policies and Procedures
During this time, the VIDE team was also updating their English Learner Policies Manual and decided to collaborate with REL Northeast & Islands on this task. Our team set up regular virtual meetings with VIDE staff to provide feedback on how to make the policies manual more evidence-based, data-informed, and aligned with the logic model and theory of action. The goal of the revised manual is to provide a single resource for educators at multiple levels (classroom teachers, principals, and district administrators) to consistently implement key policies and procedures for English learners in the Virgin Islands.
Following these meetings, VIDE staff requested additional support for their teachers (both general education and ESL teachers) on evidence-based instructional practices for ELs. We proposed delivering further technical support to build the capacity of their teachers through virtual meetings and a two-day face-to-face coaching session in October 2019.
Ensuring Evidence-based Instruction
During the first day of our visit, our team worked with VIDE staff to review their updated policies manual, logic model, and theory of action. The following day, our team visited an elementary, middle, and high school in St. Croix to better understand the types of instruction EL students were receiving.
During these visits, our team used a classroom observation protocol focused on classroom instruction and interactions that aligns with the Key Principles for ELL Instruction, created by Stanford University. The protocol guides teachers, EL specialists, and other educators in the types of instruction that will support ELs. These key principles fall under three domains: opportunities to learn, asset orientation, and developing autonomy. The VIDE team also began working on a three-year action plan for their EL program during the visit.
The VIDE team found the workshop and site visits extremely valuable. One state-level administrator said, “The presentation of the key principles for EL instruction and the knowledge I gained has left a lasting impression.” After our visit, we continued to meet regularly with VIDE, introducing evidence-based best practices to address gaps and needs identified in the first round of coaching.
REL Northeast & Islands will be holding virtual sessions this spring to finalize VIDE’s action plans, vision, and logic model and to begin developing a train-the-trainer model for teacher leaders. The VIDE team is eager to finalize their plan to ensure equitable access to high-quality instruction for ELs and to provide teachers with resources and materials they can use with ELs in the classroom. Additionally, these teacher materials will build on other relevant REL resources—such as understanding how to use data with tiered interventions and to individualize instruction—which will assist in meeting the needs of ELs who are struggling.
Through this process, we have developed a close, collaborative relationship with our VIDE colleagues. We share in their excitement about all they have accomplished and the future of their EL program. It has truly been a privilege working with them and we look forward to continuing our partnership in the future.
Contact us to learn more about REL Northeast & Islands’ training, coaching, and technical support for your state, district, or school.