At Edison Middle School in Houston's East End, students are engaged in a lively writing exercise, coming up with descriptive words as they view photos of dramatic scenes. 7th grader Priscilla says she's learned a lot since coming to the class about a month ago, especially how to start her writing with a bang.
Sarah Wolff-Romero, 7th grade English teacher at Edison Middle School
"Before, I would just, like, I wouldn't really try. I would just write down whatever. But now, she's giving me techniques to make the passage better."
Leading the 7th grade English class is teacher Sarah Wolff-Romero, one of two HISD educators honored by the Texas Association for Bilingual Education as Teacher of the Year. Wolff-Romero has been a teacher for ten years, four years in HISD. She teaches a class in which over 25 percent of her students are not native English speakers. She says one of the challenges for Edison's teachers is that some students also lack a strong foundation in their native Spanish.
"Even if I was to speak Spanish to them, they might not know that vocabulary word in Spanish, or the grammatical layout of a sentence in Spanish. So when you use it in English, it takes longer for them to develop those English skills or to transition to another language."
Wolff-Romero says she has noticed a huge improvement in proficiency by not drawing distinctions between her ESL students and the native English speakers. She uses the same teaching methods for all her students, and that includes using lots of visuals and breaking down sentences, with a dose of what she calls "dorky humor." Wolff-Romero says she holds her students to high standards while understanding what they may be going through at home.
"I do all of those things, because I do want them to be a success. And it also means sometimes a kid can't perform that day because of a personal problem they're having, me allowing them that space, but expecting them to come back the next day and work hard."
Wolff-Romero says it's crucial for schools to support ESL students, so kids will have the skills to pass the TAKS test and go to the next grade level, and schools in turn will receive recognition for providing quality education.