CEDAR RAPIDS — Metro High School’s first English Language Learner teacher Andrew Trout is both teacher and student in his classroom.
Trout is teaching 10 students from eight countries — Mexico, Guatemala, Micronesia, Tanzania, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Combo, Nepal and Haiti.
“I never assume to know more about their culture than they do,” Trout said. “I let them be the experts.”
Metro High School, 1212 Seventh St. SE, is the Cedar Rapids school district’s alternative high school for students who aren’t finding success in a traditional high school setting.
Before this year, Metro wasn’t an option for English Language Learner students.
Trout said it’s “easy to get lost in the mix” in a larger high school, and some students need a more individualized and flexible approach to learning, which they find at Metro.
That flexibility is of significant benefit to English Language Learner students, who often act as interpreters for other family members, Trout said.
One of his students, for example, sometimes misses school to take a family member to an appointment. He is the interpreter and also the only licensed driver in his family, he said.
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“Our No. 1 focus is to get to know the kids and what they need,” Metro Principal Daniel DeVore said. “We’re focused on how we can help them with stability, connecting with school and their future. No two kids are the same.”
More than 1,000 kids
In the Cedar Rapids schools, 1,081 of the district’s 16,120 students are English Language Learners.
Thirteen of the district’s 21 elementary schools have English Language Learner programs, as do four of the six middle schools and all of the high schools.
About 60 countries are represented in the English Language Learner population, with students speaking about 70 different languages.
Launching a new program during a pandemic, with an Aug. 10 derecho that damaged every Cedar Rapids school building, has been a challenge, Trout said.
Cedar Rapids high school students are in hybrid learning, attending school 50 percent in-person and 50 percent online.
Trout teaches both online and in-person classes and digital literacy skills.
Some of his students, he said, don’t have the computer skills needed for virtual learning.
Trout often visits students’ homes, dropping off paper copies of assignments and checking in with the families.
He tries to connect with students by including literature into his classes written by an author from their country.
Trout teaches in English, but if students become frustrated, Trout tries to communicate with them in their native language. He speaks Spanish, French and is learning Swahili.
His students have had at least two years of experience learning English, so wearing masks in the classroom hasn’t been a barrier for them as they work on English, Trout said.
Teaching at Metro has been “really rewarding,” Trout said.
“We get to see kids who maybe weren’t finding success in school find success at Metro,” he said. “It’s been a natural transition because a lot of the things we do as English Language Learner teachers are things that fit into the Metro program.”
DeVore, the principal, said he sees Metro students “doubling down” this year because their education was interrupted this spring by the pandemic.
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“It means more to them right now because it was taken away from them in the spring,” he said.
The English Language Learner program is a perfect fit at Metro, where teachers just want to make sure students do well.
Trout, he said, never sees an “impossible barrier” when working with students.
“When you talk to Andrew, it’s a hiccup, but he always has a solution.
“That’s the ethos of our building in general,” DeVore said. “He won’t give up on kids even if they give up on themselves.”
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