Students in Cara Morgenson’s English Language Learner (ELL) courses at North Star High School come from all over the world - Iraq, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Mexico, Russia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Guatemala, Ukraine and Iran.
They bring a variety of life experiences to classroom B107. Their personal journeys to North Star are as varied as their countries of origin. Now as a way of strengthening their shared connection to each other and to the Lincoln community, Morgenson and other North Star teachers have collaborated with educators from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, along with other educators and community agencies, to design curriculum that focuses on public writing, civic engagement and community partnerships.
As part of this grant-funded initiative - called Husker Writers - ELL students go on field trips that further their understanding of national and state history, as well as American higher education. This semester, ELL students from Morgenson’s Expanding Thematic Studies writing classes visited Homestead National Monument in Beatrice and the UNL campus. For both, her students were paired with UNL students.
“I believe field trips strengthen relationships within a community of learners while also forging community partnerships,” Morgenson said. “They’re a great way to bridge and connect schools and local community organizations.”
Many of her ELL students spoke excitedly about the connections they made with their UNL counterparts.
“One thing I’ll remember about the Homestead National Monument trip the most is when UNL students and North Star students sat with each other and talked about the history of the Homestead Act,” said North Star junior Shihab Mtro, an immigrant from Iraq.
Alia Al Ethawi, a ninth-grader originally from Yemen, also spoke about the value in spending time with UNL students. “Going with a partner from UNL, you had to communicate. Talking to them was really valuable.”
Lina Khider, a senior originally from Iraq, added: “I really enjoyed the time that I spent with them. I know what I need to get ready for college, what score I have to have to get to go to college, and what you have to do to get scholarships. It made me think about my future a lot.”
In addition to these personal connections, the field trips provide background learning and support that makes education more equitable and accessible for the students, Morgenson said. These trips are a way for students to make tangible connections to what they’ve learned in the classroom.
“We learned a lot about the Homestead Act and what we had talked about in class,” said Al Ethawi. “We learned a lot about immigrants and refugees and how they were living back then.”
Overall, Morgenson marveled at the positive, productive interactions she saw between North Star and UNL students.
“The bus was abuzz with conversations between the North Star and UNL partners, with students sharing experiences in home countries, hometowns and schools. It was refreshing to see phones put away and students immersed in lengthy conversations with folks they’d only just met. I think sometimes we underestimate the capacity of young people to engage with one another. These conversations were profound and energizing.”
“The experience helped me know that I have a voice and everyone does,” said junior Mustafa Abdulkarim, an Iraqi immigrant. “It made me feel I am important to the community.”
More about the Lincoln Public Schools English Language Learner Program:
In 2017-18, Lincoln Public Schools served 3,327 ELL immigrant and refugee students, representing roughly 114 countries and 103 different languages spoken. For the most part, the number of ELL students has steadily risen every year for the past 10 years.
ELL services are provided to assist students with limited English skills to function in the regular English-speaking classroom, to develop proficiency in reading, writing, speaking and listening in English, and to develop knowledge about the customs and culture of the school, community and nation.
The goals of the LPS ELL Program:
Published: April 25, 2018, Updated: April 26, 2018