English Learners Program Serves Diverse Cultures Throughout Los Alamos Public Schools

Teachers in the English Learners program at Los Alamos Public Schools are, back row from left, Julie Bulthuis, Aspen Elementary;  Ellen Middleditch, Chamisa and Piñon Elementary;  Rebecca Cabildo, LAOLA; and Inna Bohn, Los Alamos Middle School. Front Row: Michele Poulton, Barranca Elementary; Sherri Smith, Los Alamos High School; Jessie Dixon, Mountain Elementary; and Miel Rim, Aspen and Barranca Elementary. Photo courtesy LAPS


Did you know that there are 170 students enrolled in Los Alamos Public Schools from 33 different countries and pueblos, speaking 25 different languages? Students are enrolled in grades K through 12th at all elementary schools, the middle school and high school. The English Learners (EL) program at LAPS is specifically for students with other home languages to help them learn social and academic English to succeed in school. “The program uses English as the common language across the diverse languages and cultures we have here,” said Michele Poulton, one of the district’s eight EL teachers serving all school sites. “It provides legally required services similar to how special education programs are supported.”

According to Ms. Poulton, when new families register for school, they complete a Language Usage form (LUS) which asks questions about other languages within the family/home setting. If any of the answers indicate yes, EL teachers administer a screener to determine if the student needs EL services. “If a student needs services, the amount of time per week depends on a variety of factors, including the student’s levels in Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing, and their grade level.”

The countries and pueblos represented in the district include Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, India, Israel, Italy, Korea, Laos, Mexico, Navajo Nation, Nepal, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Russia, San Ildefonso Pueblo, Santa Clara Pueblo, Taiwan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam and the United States. 

These students and families speak Arabic, Chinese, Czech, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hmong, Italian, Kannada, Keres, Korean, Maithili, Nepali, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Tewa, Urdu, Uzbek and Vietnamese.

“I love getting to know my students and their families and cultures,” said EL teacher Jessica Dixon. “I believe that speaking more than one language is an asset and having a richly diverse population is a strength.”

Other EL teachers for the program include Inna Bohn, Julie Bulthuis, Rebecca Cabildo, Ellen Middleditch, Miel Rim and Sherri Smith.

“A wonderful part of my job is knowing that I make a difference to a student and a family in some way, every day,” noted Ms. Poulton. “English is not my first language, so I can relate to the students and families with whom I connect.”

“Living and learning in a different language and culture can be difficult, so helping the families feel welcome and helping them find a voice in their new home is important both in the short and long term,” she added.

Most of the EL teachers agree that scheduling EL services can be challenging. It requires coordinating with classroom teachers, specials teachers, and other services across all grade levels to balance English learning with classroom instructional time.

At the elementary level, EL teachers coordinate with classroom teachers about pull-out to work in the EL classroom, push-in to help in the regular class, or a combination. At the middle and high school levels, it is more complex as students who need EL services need to be scheduled into the proper level of English class with the EL teacher and/or an EL Academic Support class to help with other subjects/content. 

Over the years, the EL team has worked hard to streamline the process across elementary schools and to parallel the middle and high school process as appropriate. 

“It is so much fun to see our ELs develop the language but also to learn the different cultures and perspectives they bring,” added Ms. Rim. “When I first immigrated to the US in first grade, I was an EL student. My EL teacher made a huge impact on me adjusting to the US quickly. I am thankful I have the opportunity to pay it forward.”