Voices Vol 41 No 3


SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS: Bilingual Elementary

A New Representative and a Port-of-Entry Program

By Nora Torres

When we think of the bilingual population we often think of students who are proficient in their native language and enter school with a pre-formed set of skills and knowledge acquired while in school in their native country.  Unfortunately, we often forget that there is a population of students who had an interrupted education in their native country and come into the U.S. school system lacking skills necessary to succeed at their grade level.  In many instances, these students may find themselves failing, assigned to Special Education classes, or dropping out of school.  Our school district has implemented a program called Port of Entry.  Essentially, it consists of testing students in Reading and Math so as to ascertain that they are on grade level. Those who test two years behind or more, are placed in our Port of Entry program.  The program consists of self-contained instruction in all subjects within a small group.  The focus of instruction is to help students in the program make enough progress in Reading and Math so as to place them in a mainstream environment within a two year period.  Many of these students are able to make enough progress to be mainstreamed before the two year allotted period. Additionally, the  program becomes a sort of filter through which students are monitored before a decision is made to place them in a Special Education program. The percentage of students requiring Special Education, pull-out instruction, or any classification is less than 2%. As a result, the program is cost effective and it helps keep students motivated and in school.  Many issues related to low self-esteem are also avoided. Students progress at their own pace, avoiding competition and engaging in more one on one instruction. The program becomes a bridge between their previous educational experience and the one they will encounter once they are mainstreamed. 

This is the program that I have been involved with for the past four years.  To say it has been gratifying is a huge understatement.  These students make such fast progress and are so motivated.  They work harder than many of their mainstreamed counterparts and are happy to exit the program. While in it, however, they develop a sense of camaraderie where they help each other and offer what they know in order to make everyone’s learning experience a better one.

As part of the Executive Board, I hope to be able to bring attention to the growing number of ELLs that have had an interrupted education and will struggle, if not fail, unless they are identified through testing and alternate programs are made available to them.  No longer are we dealing with a population of students who come to school at grade level in their native language.  For those students who have fallen behind, there should be an alternative that addresses their particular situation.  Recently, our Port of Entry Program received national recognition.  It seems like it is a sign of the times.  Immigration is forever changing and I’m glad we have been able to service this segment of our immigrant student population.

I have been a bilingual education teacher since 1988 and have been in Union City since 1991.  The past four years I have been a middle school Port of Entry teacher.  I have taught Bilingual 1st through 8th grades and have enjoyed it so much that I’ve never wanted to teach anything else.  I hold certificates in Early Childhood, Elementary, Spanish, Supervision, and a School Principal Certificate of Eligibility. My Master’s degree is in Educational Administration and Supervision but my heart has always been in the classroom.  I hope to bring my experience and my passion for the profession to the Executive Board at NJTESOL/NJBE and look forward to helping shape the future of this organization.

Nora Torres, Bilingual Elementary 1 - 8 Representative

noratorres412@gmail.com, Union Hill Middle School, Union City, NJ

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