English learners see success thanks to impactful courses

Garland ISD boasts a diverse population that speaks more than 100 languages. We pride ourselves in having a culturally rich community, and the district is dedicated to serving the needs of all. GISD is home to two special programs impacting the lives of our English Language Learners (EL). For nearly a decade, AVID Excel and EL Leadership have been providing students skills to maximize their social, personal and academic potential.

AVID is a national program aimed at empowering students with both knowledge and skills to take charge of their own education. AVID Excel is a specialized program for English learners designed to prepare middle school students for excellence in rigorous high school coursework.

“GISD was the first district in the state to offer this amazing program,” said English as a Second Language (ESL) Coordinator Deb Tietjen. “The AVID Excel mission is to change the trajectory of long-term English learners by accelerating language acquisition, developing literacy and placing students on the path to high school AVID and college preparatory coursework.” 

The program supports students who have not met standard on the STAAR assessment and have been in the ESL program for six years or more. Since its implementation six years ago, over 80% of AVID Excel students have qualified for high school AVID and are on the path to attend college. Seeing this accomplishment, #GarlandUSA was invited to be the first district to host a national AVID Excel Showcase.

The success and introduction of AVID Excel could not have been possible without a high school-focused predecessor. Built on the dreams and vision of a small group of district ESL teachers, EL Leadership began changing lives in 2011.  

“These amazing teachers saw the needs of their students and began to advocate and implement the leadership program on their own, as volunteers after school,” Tietjen stated. “The gains these students showed were powerful. They were more engaged and empowered.”

The GISD-developed course shares the mission and vision of AVID, but is designed for high school English learners who need additional help.

“The goal of the EL Leadership course is to develop the student’s academic language while providing an opportunity to understand and self-advocate for themselves and their education,” Tietjen described. “The program is designed to point students to a path on their campus where they will connect, be challenged and use their unique skills to contribute to their high school, their family and their community.” 

Since launching, EL Leadership has produced many student leaders who have presented their stories in front of hundreds of educators at national conferences. Participants volunteer at several events, and some are even trained to be official translators at their campuses.

Offering valuable programs that foster inclusiveness and initiate the engagement of all voices can alter the course of a student’s life.

“Both programs address the needs of the whole child. They promote and celebrate cultural diversity, and the students represent a wide variety of ethnicities. The support students receive helps them as they grow academically, linguistically and socially. But the change of mindset is the most impactful,” she expressed. “The students in both groups move from a state of complacency about their education and future to become advocates for their hopes and dreams.”

GISD champions programs that promote an excellent, equitable education for all. Knowing that our EL population is constantly increasing, these courses are two small ways GISD has adapted to serving the distinct needs of our students.

Did you know that Garland ISD has a Tax Rate Election (TRE) on the November ballot? If approved by voters, it will lower the property tax rate by nearly five cents and generate an additional $42 million to support district programs. Early voting begins Oct. 13 and Election Day is Nov. 3.

Learn more about the TRE by visiting our TRE website. Learn more about English learner programs on the district website.