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Afterschool Helps English Language Learners Thrive

Students learn new skills and concepts every day in school—but learning comes with an extra set of challenges for more than 4 million English language learner (ELL) students who attend public schools nationwide.

Along with the daily routine of tackling a variety of subjects, ELL students are developing fluency in a new language. They're trying to understand new content through a language they have limited proficiency in, are navigating a new school with an unfamiliar culture, and are more likely to live in low-income families and attend schools that are under-resourced and underemployed.

"It is more critical than ever to provide this growing population with the supports to develop their literacy skills both in and out of school," reports the Afterschool Alliance.

And out-of-school-time programs nationwide play a central role in helping ELL students thrive.

The Afterschool Alliance, in partnership with Dollar General Literacy Foundation, recently awarded the $10,000 Dollar General Afterschool Literacy Award to the Columbus State Community College's ESL Afterschool Communities (ESLAsC) program for its demonstrated excellence in helping develop ELL students' literacy skills.

In addition to the award, the Dollar General Literacy Foundation and Afterschool Alliance also conducted research and one-on-one interviews with ESLAsC and program runner-ups: La Prensa Libre de Simpson Street, Mighty Writers El Futuro Program, ourBRIDGE for KIDS, Raiders ARK After-School Program and The Bridge Project.

In an issue brief, "Afterschool Providing Key Literacy Supports to English Language Learner Students," the Afterschool Alliance and the Dollar General Literacy Foundation examined the role of afterschool programs in addressing the issues facing youth, schools and communities.

Multiple hurdles for ELL students can have a lasting academic impact.

ELL students in elementary, middle and high school are between 2.5 and 3.5 times more likely to score below basic in reading than their non-ELL peers.

Moreover, the dropout rate for students who speak "a language other than English at home" and spoke English less than "very well" is more than 3.5 times as high as the national average. The graduation rate for ELL students is almost 20 percent lower than the national rate.

ELL students are a diverse, significant and growing portion of our public school system.

During the 2013 – 2014 school year, an estimated 4.5 million ELL students attended public school. The number has steadily increased over the past decade, with close to a quarter of a million students now constituting 9.3 percent of public school students.

ELL students are also a diverse group. They comprise more than a dozen different races and ethnic populations speaking more than 30 different languages.

Afterschool programs are uniquely positioned to provide the supports ELL students need.

Given the challenges facing ELL students, schools need additional support to meet their needs and ensure academic success. Afterschool programs offer a host of supports. They provide a culturally sensitive atmosphere, use a variety of learning approaches to help build literacy skills, provide family support, foster community and school partnerships, and engage students to promote motivation and interest.

Research shows that ELL students who participate in afterschool programs see academic improvements; ELL students participating in afterschool programs performed better on a statewide English language test and were more likely to be redesignated as English proficient.

"Afterschool programs are natural partners to build ELL students' literacy skills, as well as support their social and emotional wellbeing and engage students' families in their education," the Afterschool Alliance reports. "As a part of the educational ecosystem, afterschool programs are helping all students, including ELL students, reach their full potential."

To read more about the role of afterschool programs in addressing the challenges faced by ELL students, visit