English learners take courses at AACC


Photo courtesy of Dana Marron

Students in the English Learners in College Program giving a presentation about the benefits of the classes.

Sam Gauntt, Associate editor

Bilingual high school students who are trying to improve their English language skills took for-credit writing and grammar classes at AACC over their summer break.

The 15 students, from Annapolis High School, were part of a pilot program that AACC plans to expand to other high schools next summer.

“We had great support from the foundation and admissions and financial aid, and liberal arts,” Dana Marron, director of English Language Learning and Adult Education, said. “Our hope was to really make sure the students had a full experience of what college life could look like for them, and a valuable opportunity to earn their first college credit while also improving their English skills.”

Students are allowed to enroll at AACC while they are still in high school, but their classes are not usually taught in both English and Spanish as the summer classes were. 

“What was especially unique for this group is the class was taught bilingual,” Marron said, “which is something we’ve not done before in our [dual enrollment] program, but really serves students well, because they could use their native language to bolster … their English skills.”

Students who took the classes this summer praised the educators who taught them. 

“It was wonderful,” Dania Caniles, a 17-year-old student from Annapolis High School, said. “The teachers helped me a lot with my grammar. I learned a lot.”

Liz Fuentes, a 17-year-old student from Annapolis High School, said the classes were “the best experience in my life. … If they gave me the opportunity to take it again, I would take it again.”

The partnership between AACC and Anne Arundel County Public Schools paves the way for non-native English speakers to enroll in the college’s dual enrollment program. 

“We saw that students who were designated by their high schools as ESOL [English for Speakers of Other Languages] students, or English learner students, were really being systematically left out of these early college access programs, not just in Anne Arundel County, but across this state,” Owen S. Andrews, an Instructional Specialist at AACC, said. 

During the 2017-2018 school year, English language learners represented 6.6% of high schoolers  but only 0.3% of students in college dual-enrollment programs according to data from the Civil Rights Data Collection

Tema Encarnacion, a teacher at Annapolis High School, said the program is a “huge step in the right direction.”

“We were able to sort of break down some of those barriers a little bit,” Encarnacion said. “It was more accessible for students to enroll. And then they went as a cohort to the program … they were able to, you know, be with other people they knew. They were more comfortable.” 

Andrews said the program was part of an effort by the college to be accessible to students who speak multiple languages.

“Sometimes it’s … hard to get big institutions to collaborate, especially during a pandemic,” Andrews said. “And so because folks are so willing and eager to collaborate and to partner, that really created opportunity … and enhanced equity for a group of students that traditionally wasn’t accessing this program.”

Andrews said he hopes to get the same students who took classes this summer back on campus to enroll for the spring semester.