English Language Support

Below are some frequently-asked questions about ESOL courses and English Language Support at SSFS. For more information about ESOL courses at SSFS, please contact Claire Donahue.

What support does SSFS offer for students who are not native speakers of English?

Sandy Spring Friends School is proud to offer our international students a full two to three-year program of language development instruction and support in English and History.

ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) courses at Sandy Spring are very rigorous, combining the same content that they would receive in non-ESOL courses with additional guidance in reading, writing, listening, speaking, vocabulary, and grammar.

Regardless of whether students enter in 9th or 10th grade, most students take two years of ESOL English and ESOL World History.

These courses are taught by experienced teachers who are specially trained in teaching English Language Learners. This specialized instruction ensures that students are well-prepared to succeed in mainstream (non-ESOL) high school and college courses.

Students entering mainstream English or history course at SSFS for the first time enroll in a concurrent course called Writing Seminar. This course supports international students in planning, drafting and revising writing assignments for their mainstream academic courses.

Our international students also take a special course which explores American Culture through a sociology lens. Sandy Spring Friends School strongly believes that language and culture are deeply intertwined, and that language is best taught in the context of culture. The goal of the course is to make crossing cultures a positive, productive and enriching experience, by helping students better understand the nature of the American character, strengthen intercultural awareness, and develop sociocultural analytical skills.

What about math, science, arts and other courses?

Outside of English and History, all classes are completely integrated with domestic students. However, ninth grade English-language learners are able to receive extra support in a section of co-taught Biology which is jointly taught by a science teacher and an ESOL teacher.

What if my child still needs additional English language support after two years?

If students enter at the Intermediate level of ESOL, they are able to take three full years of language development. SSFS offers one year of Intermediate ESOL, and two different year-long Advanced ESOL courses.

We also provide a co-taught American History class for juniors and seniors who require support in research and writing. This class combines domestic and international students and is jointly taught by a history teacher and an ESOL teacher.

What if my child doesn’t need ESOL support, or is quickly ready to move into mainstream classes?

We are well aware that each student is an individual, that different students have different backgrounds in English, and that every student progresses at a different pace. Students who demonstrate near-native fluency, or who make exceptional progress, may move into non-ESOL classes sooner than the normal two year progression.

Are ESOL classes “real” classes? I’ve heard it doesn’t look good to colleges when students take more than one year of ESOL. Is this true?

ESOL courses are necessary and count towards graduation credits and the student’s GPA, just like any other course. In addition, colleges understand and expect international students to enroll in these courses based on their English proficiency. Colleges are looking for prospective students with strong test scores on the TOEFL, but who also have demonstrated competency in their ESOL and non-ESOL courses.

ESOL courses at Sandy Spring are very rigorous, combining the same content that they would receive in non-ESOL courses with additional guidance in reading, writing, listening, speaking, vocabulary, and grammar. Assignments are based on classic and contemporary literature and academic texts written for native English speakers.

Acquiring fluency in your second language is not as simple as memorizing vocabulary or grammar for a test. Mainstream classes are designed for students who demonstrate close-to-native proficiency in English. Even students with high TOEFL scores sometimes need extra support when adjusting to the academic challenges of a rigorous high school curriculum in a different language. For most international students, this takes at least two years.

Our ESOL students are hard-working, motivated and ambitious, but demonstrating sufficient fluency in English to succeed at the same level as native-born American students is not easy. The most common challenges our English language learners face involve writing: ESOL courses coach them on effective word choice, grammar, organization, conducting academic research, developing a clear and appropriate “voice” when writing and avoiding plagiarism.

Our experience is that students who invest the time in thoroughly acquiring the language have much more success than those who jump into advanced classes prematurely. Although students might be able to stay afloat in the classes, they often depend heavily on translation devices, help from peers, studying the material in their native language, and sometimes even plagiarism. We believe, and colleges agree, that it is far better to enroll students in advanced classes after they have developed a strong language base and are fully independent learners.

How are international students placed in classes when they first arrive at SSFS?

When students arrive at SSFS, they are given an extensive series of evaluations to determine the best placement. For students attending Spring to Success in the summer, this would take place in August, so that students can be registered for classes and order their books as early as possible. Students entering after the start of the school year are encouraged to schedule an evaluation at least one week before their intended start date.

The placement evaluation includes an oral interview, listening assessment, reading comprehension questions, expository writing sample, and a math assessment. Depending on the student’s level, we may also administer a response to literature and historical skills assessment. A committee of teachers carefully evaluates the work and recommends the student for the appropriate English and math level. Teachers reevaluate placements after the first few weeks, and if it becomes apparent that the student is either too high or too low for the recommended class, the student may be moved at that point.

How are ESOL students placed in classes for the following year?

Throughout the school year, students and teachers will compile a portfolio of work samples. This collection of work will include speaking, listening, reading, and writing assessments, as well as self-evaluations, report card grades and comments, and test scores. In addition, the student will complete reflections on his or her social adjustment, study habits and participation in the community. The portfolio is designed to show a student’s progress throughout the year, and to identify areas of strength and areas for growth. At the end of the school year, a committee of ESOL teachers and other faculty will evaluate the student’s progress and determine which classes are most appropriate for the following year.

How do ESOL students prove that they are ready for mainstream classes? Does it depend on their grades? Test scores?

If it becomes apparent during the portfolio evaluation process that students are demonstrating a near-native fluency and the teachers of mainstream classes approve, they will be enrolled in the appropriate non-ESOL English or History class. We expect that most students will take two years, although some may need more time and some may need less.

How can my child demonstrate success at SSFS? How do we determine if SSFS is a good fit for my child?

In addition to making academic progress, students are expected to be contributing community members, which means integration and involvement with the school community through activities such as sports, clubs, arts, community service and student government. As students progress through their time at Sandy Spring, we evaluate their progress twice a year academically and as a contributing community member. If it becomes apparent during the yearly evaluation process that students are not making adequate progress or positive contributions to the SSFS community, and/ or violate the discipline policies, it may be decided that SSFS is not the appropriate place for the student. In cases in which the student will not be offered a contract to continue at Sandy Spring, parents will be notified well in advance.