Nearly every student relies upon their high school guidance counselor to help them choose courses, decide on a possible career path, search for colleges, assist in filling out school applications, or listen to concerns as they work toward graduation. For a growing number of English Language Learners (ELLs), Jamestown High School teacher Stacy Childress supports these needs, and many more, as the bilingual guidance counselor for 60 students.
"My main goal with the ELLs, as it would be for any guidance counselor, is for them to develop a plan for after graduation. The difference is, I need to be hands-on in all areas of helping them with their post-graduation plans in order for them to succeed," said Mrs. Childress. "These students have a tremendous amount of potential. They are very creative and bright. Some of these students arrive in high school speaking very little English and because of the language barrier they don't always flourish. That's my job. To fill that gap and help them reach their full potential."
Mrs. Childress, who received a NYS certificate in school counseling, is also a certified Spanish teacher. Tamu Reinhardt, JPS' Coordinator of ESL/Foreign Languages programs, approached Mrs. Childress knowing she would be the perfect person to meet the needs of a growing population. When she isn't teaching Spanish classes to native English speakers, Mrs. Childress is an invaluable resource for ELL as a sounding board for their concerns and a cheerleader for their abilities.
"Mrs. Childress helped look for the right college and fill out financial aid forms to help with my graduation plans. I will be the first person in my family to graduate high school and I'm very proud and excited," said senior Luis Martinez who will attend Lincoln College of Technology in Connecticut to pursue a career in welding. "The ESL program helped me learn English, which is a very difficult language to learn. Before I came to the United States I didn't have a plan. I didn't want to study and get a job. But with the ESL program and Mrs. Childress I decided to go to college and become something good in life."
Mrs. Childress also deals with personal issues and concerns like cultural differences and encourages students to become involved by participating in extracurricular activities. Many students want to be involved but don't know how, or feel uncomfortable because of the language barrier. Mrs. Childress becomes their liaison.
An important part of Mrs. Childress' job is to bridge the gap between an ELL and his or her content area teachers. She provides insight and resources for teachers on how to teach an ELL and monitors their progress to ensure that students are meeting graduation requirements.
Mrs. Childress arranges parent-teacher conferences and translates during the meetings to help parents to become more involved. Mrs. Childress also works with Pamela Ramsey from Chautauqua Tapestry to hold counseling sessions to explore issues unique to ELL students but also to develop a positive self-image. A recent field trip to the Robert H. Jackson Center enabled students to learn more about the Holocaust. In addition to learning about history, students also learned important lessons about discrimination while considering the need for tolerance, resiliency and response to adversity.
"I didn't know what had happened during the Holocaust until we talked about it," said JHS sophomore Israel Melendez. "The Jews didn't have a choice in what happened to them. But we do. Youth today can make a difference in their own life and set their own path by getting an education. It made me realize that I can make a difference in my life."