Fourth graders Jayden Chung, Matias Silva, Josue Alvarez and Yair Nunez Marquez check vocabulary with English Language teacher Ms. Megan Juhan at Meadow Lane Elementary

December 9, 2023

The LSR7 English Language Development (ELD) department offers more than lessons on reading and writing. ELD coordinator Melisha Otero considers her office the district’s welcome center for students and families for whom English is an additional language.

Leila Cervantes, Leamsi Cervantes and Kenia Martinez wear traditional dresses from Jalisco, Mexico at the ELL: Celebrating Diversity event in October

The department serves students and their families with language development services, hosts an enrollment welcome center in the summer and provides adult English Learner classes. Students who attend the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District and their families speak 37 languages.

Families dress in traditional cultural clothing while eating home-cooked food at the ELL: Celebrating Diversity event in October

The department also hosts multiple community and family engagement sessions, such as the district’s English Language Learners: Celebrating Diversity event in October, which provided a snapshot of cultures in our school community. More than 400 people attended, bringing 58 food dishes from a total of 27 different countries.

Faith Ademuyiwa removes the lid from a tray of Nigerian food at the ELL: Celebrating Diversity event in October

“Students are proud to be bilingual and bicultural,” said Otero, referring to a student’s dual connection to the United States and to their family’s country of origin. “This year, almost everyone dressed up in their cultural clothes, and it was the most beautiful thing.”

First graders Mayomi Velez and Emilianys Ayala Marquez listen to a story on computers in between English Language small group sessions at Meadow Lane Elementary

Classroom support
During the school day, ELD students find support directly alongside peers in the classroom, as well as in small-group lessons.

Megan Juhan, English Language teacher at Meadow Lane Elementary, started a recent afternoon in a fourth grade class with a creative writing unit. She helped a group with adverbs related to the passage of time, while students excitedly shared story ideas.

“I look forward to seeing the joy of learning that my students acquire as they grow and develop in all aspects of life,” said Juhan.

Ms. Yvette Medrano uses flash cards of food words with third grader Adriana Velez at Meadow Lane Elementary

In a classroom down the hall, paraprofessional Yvette Medrano worked with a student using flash cards for food vocabulary. The two laughed as they described different foods and whether they would taste good. English Language teacher Erica Martinez asked another small group what they were thankful for ahead of November break.

For mother Ivelisse Garcia, who is from Puerto Rico, the genuine care that ELD staff shows for her children makes her feel gratitude.

“The best thing in the program for my daughters is the support they receive from the teachers,” she said. “Their dedication has made us feel spectacular.”

Garcia said her two daughters have seen significant improvement in reading, writing and math since beginning three years ago.

Malaak and Marjan Ijaq share food with their mother, Yazmin, at the ELL: Celebrating Diversity event in October

A sense of belonging
Otero believes that forming relationships with students, as well as their parents and families, is part of what makes the LSR7 ELD department so successful.

While the district used to provide language development support at centralized sites throughout the district, ELD support is now provided at each school building, allowing students to attend and build strong connections to peers, staff and community at school.

Fahren Hounnoukpe shows her family the poster she made at the ELL: Celebrating Diversity event in October

“If they see that we are welcoming and inviting, then they’re more likely to sign up for parent-teacher conferences, or attend events since they’re able to be themselves,” she said. “We’ve noticed that helps form that connection in the building.”

Fourth grader Matias Silva smiles while working with English Language teacher Ms. Megan Juhan at Meadow Lane Elementary

That’s why the department aims to incorporate celebration of cultures into English lessons. Bookshelves are lined with folk stories from regions across the globe. Rows of international flags decorate the ceiling. A large world map hangs in the center of each English Learner classroom, with photos of students near their family’s country of origin.“I love working in the ELD department because there is such a wealth of cultures represented,” said Juhan.

A world map in an ELD classroom shows the countries of origin of many students at Meadow Lane Elementary

ELD families have also built connections among themselves. Otero said during events like Diversity Night, newer parents to Lee’s Summit find friends that speak the same language or have children who attend the same school as their own. Others sit next to a family from across the world and have such meaningful interactions that they exchange numbers to continue their friendship beyond the school walls.

“What we’ve done is build a community regardless of where you’re from, while also including where you’re from,” Otero said.