Metzger Elementary School leads the way for English learners
Metzger Elementary School is one of two elementary schools in the Tigard-Tualatin School District to offer a Spanish-English two-way immersion program, in which students (from both English- and Spanish-speaking homes) are taught every subject entirely in Spanish.
That makes Metzger an ideal candidate to participate in Project LEE, a project conducted by the graduate school of education at Portland State University. Project LEE — which stands for a Spanish title that translates to Project Reading for Excellence and Success — aims to more accurately identify third- to fifth-grade English language learners who should be in special-education programs, and create a model of "culturally and linguistically responsible instruction," according to its website.
Funded through the federal Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs, Project LEE is one of three competitive national programs that all have the same objectives. Julie Esparza Brown, a PSU faculty member and project leader, approached the Tigard-Tualatin School District to participate in the project last year.
"The two principal investigators made a proposal of what they wanted to work on, and then they had to find schools that were interested," said Todd Farris, principal at Metzger. "So they shopped it around, and they brought it to Tigard-Tualatin. I immediately expressed interest, because I just felt it was really in line with the work we were doing, and I saw a vision for it."
"We are a really data-driven district, and part of the grant was to have good data they could monitor, so they could know their impact," Farris added, when asked why Project LEE sought out the district. "They had lots of requirements around data, and we met those."
Project LEE will work with other district schools, but Metzger is the first to participate. Farris and his colleagues have been working with the project since last school year. On Tuesday morning, Esparza Brown visited Metzger with Grace Zamora Duran, an education program specialist with the Department of Education.
During Zamora Druan's visit, Metzger faculty presented information about the school's strategies for addressing when English language learners struggle, which include holding parent-teacher meetings and creating individualized curriculum and environmental plans for each student.
"We were super happy to work with this research organization to help investigate that question of, how do we effectively serve English language learners in general, but especially in the two-way immersion model," Farris said.
Farris and other Metzger faculty also brought Zamora Duran and Esparza Brown to different classrooms that use the two-way immersion model. In Patty Hoyt's third-grade class, students learned vocabulary and communicated entirely in Spanish, whether they spoke English or Spanish as a first language.
After studying what works and doesn't work at Metzger and other district schools, Project LEE will eventually share its findings with schools across the country.
"That's part of the project — to find out, what are the great practices, and then they're going to share that as a culmination of the project," Farris said. "So that's really cool."
Project LEE's work will include documenting instruction time, both by taking photos and shooting video, and incorporating that into training materials for other schools.
"I tell my teachers — you might be a little bit famous," Farris joked.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story contained a typographic error in which the name of the school was misspelled in the sub-headline. It is Metzger Elementary School. The story has been updated.