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District 87 is launching new curriculum to serve more English language learners

A teacher stands to the left, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. She's wiping a tear from her eye as she and three teen students laugh. The Latino teens are part of an English language class. In front of two students is a blue and white flag, draped across classroom desks. The third student holds another blue and white flag.
Kimberly Ann Taber
Courtesy / District 87
District 87 multilingual teacher Cereida Berrios Rodriguez, left, laughs with her students. The Bloomington school district has seen growing enrollment of English language learners over the past decade. Now, District 87 is unveiling a new curriculum for those students who attend junior high and high school.

District 87 is launching a new curriculum for middle and high schoolers enrolled as English language learners — part of an effort to better serve the growing demographic group.

The Bloomington district’s school board adopted the English 3-D program during its January meeting, and this week educators are exploring the newly-arrived materials.

“Before we had all of our (ELL) students in the same classes, and it was really hard to meet their needs, because the language development needs of someone who’s new to English is different than the language development needs of someone who has been growing their English for quite a while,” said Kim Taber, District 87 multilingual programs director.

Splitting the classes helps educators better meet the needs of the students, she said. The new materials that include physical books and digital resources, align well with themes the district’s multilingual teaching staff had been creating on their own, and broaden a focus on gaining more content learning alongside language acquisition, she said.

The 3-D curriculum comes as part of a broader effort to better meet the needs of a growing multilingual demographic, said Taber.

While District 87’s total enrollment has dipped about 10% over the past decade — to about 4,900 students — Pre-K through 12th graders requiring English services has grown from roughly 7% to 11%.

That percentage is in line with Bloomington-Normal's other large public school district: McLean County’s Unit 5 is more than double the size of District 87, with nearly 13,000 students. But it’s English learner enrollment also is growing, and similarly proportioned: One of every 10 students in Unit 5 is eligible for English services.

Taber said she doesn’t expect the area's multilingual enrollments to slow.

A woman with medium brown hair, and wearing a grey T-shirt and a purple cardigan  sits at a desk, in front of a microphone, in the WGLT studios.
Michele Steinbacher
Kim Taber, District 87 multilingual programs director

“We’ve definitely seen an increase, I would say, you know, back in 2016, at the high school, I think we had 30 [to] 35 English learners. This year, we have over 100 — so a lot of growth,” she said.

The rising numbers of English language learners [academics are shifting away from the previous term of English as Second Language or ESL students] come across the board age-wise — from preschoolers to high schoolers, she said, adding secondary level ELL enrollments have grown more rapidly.

New curriculum targets 6th through 12th graders

The new changes in District 87’s English language program affect 6th through 12th graders, said Taber.

Of the district’s 550 ELL students, more than 200 are at the shared campus of Bloomington Junior High School and Bloomington High School, off Locust Street.

Faculty at the two schools are incorporating some of the 3-D program changes now, Taber said, but full implementation is planned for August.

“Our teachers have been piloting and trying out some of the components. … They’re very excited for it,” said Taber, who has been part of District 87’s multilingual program for nearly two decades. “It’s always nice when we have good quality resources that we can present to the students.”

The curriculum has a startup cost of about $15,000, and brings an annual cost of about $50 per student, according to District 87 school board materials. But that cost is defrayed by the English language development program with teachers able to focus on best practices and teaching.

Before this spring, teachers individually designed curriculums, said Taber. “Our teachers are amazing, and they did a great job. But these new materials will allow them to move forward and focus on teaching and not having to create materials.”

Splitting classes most noticeable change

The English 3-D program splits these adolescent learners into two groups. English newcomers will take part in its Language Launch component with traditional services. But those students who are further along also will learn content used among by their native English speaking peers — such as reading the same novels, said Taber.

A teacher stands in front of smartboard in a classroom. She is leading a class of teens, who are sitting at desks arranged into sets of four.
Courtesy / District 87
Ashley Carrasco, with District 87's multilingual program, leads a class of English language learners.

“It’s the same curriculum and materials as our [literature and composition],” she said, adding extra support includes a language arts teacher, and a multilingual-certified staff member. “So the students can learn the same content as their peers, and they get the additional supports that they might need.”

Even more advanced English learners take part in general education classes, where District 87 provides English support services, such as a co-teaching scenario.

It’s challenging for students learning English while they also are responsible for learning content — say in math, or science courses, said Taber, adding, “That can be a lot of pressure and a lot of stress for students. So we try to find ways to support them.”

One Bloomington High School history class has students who speak English, Spanish, Russian and Uzbek, said Taber. So, the district has faculty in the room teaching history, and another helping with English at the same time.

District 87 families speak 40 languages

District 87 knows communicating with students' families is an important part of the education experience, said Taber. For students' whose families don't speak English, that can be challenging.

About 40 languages other than English are spoken in District 87 homes.

A chart shows the enrollment growth among English language learners in Bloomington's District 87. The chart is purple and yellow, and covers 2008 to 2024.
District 87
This chart outlines enrollment growth among the English language learners in District 87.

“We’ve put a lot of supports into place for families,” said Taber, including a district interpreter who helps teachers communicate with Spanish-speaking families. Evolving technology also helps. One program allows the district to send messages in English, but families can receive those in whatever language they select on their device.

District 87 also partners with Heartland Community College to offer evening English classes for parents at Irving Elementary School. The program even provides childcare to remove that barrier.

“They can bring their kids along and they can get tutoring and support, and their parents can be learning English. So that is one way we’re helping our families in developing English,” she said.

English programs for younger students

While the new 3-D English curriculum is for adolescents, the update comes on the heels of the district recently turning its attention on its Pre-K through 5th programming, said Taber.

The district is home to six elementary schools, plus the Sarah Raymond Early Education Center.

The English language development program is available at every building, said Taber.

There’s also a dual language program available to some Spanish-speaking students. That runs Pre-K through eighth grade. For that, lessons begin almost entirely in Spanish, then shift to include English. This dual language option’s goal is bilingual graduates.

Michele Steinbacher was a WGLT correspondent, joining the staff in 2020. She left the station in 2024.