Merging Cultures

ELL is more than a program, it’s a survival skill.

Kristin Wells

School could prove a bit more challenging if it was all in a different language. Welcome to the daily life of an ELL student.

ELL Teacher Sarah Louis is a passionate teacher with a difficult yet rewarding job. Louis works with students that come to America and speak little to no English in the ELL program.

“I teach the English language to students that have come here from other countries. There’s a wide variety of students. I’m teaching English like you would take a foreign language,” Louis said.  

The ELL program, or English Language Learner program, is comprised of many students in three levels: beginners, intermediates and advanced. Everyday, kids speaking almost 30 different languages come into Louis’ and her colleague Karen Crosby’s classrooms and then out into general education classes, putting their English into practice.



“This program is a necessity. It gets them immersed in the English culture and language and helps set them up for success in their academic classes that they have to take outside of the center,” Louis said.

While Louis is the teacher, often times Louis feels that she learns from her students instead.

“Truly, this job, when I’m around these kids, it makes me feel so lucky to not have faced some of the challenges that they have faced. But it also makes me feel so blessed that I get to interact with them each day and get to teach them everyday a skill of English that they literally have to have to survive in this country,” Louis said.

Louis began her teaching career in Costa Rica, teaching English to elementary students. She returned to the United States and taught in Kansas City, Kansas where she began to get certified to teach in an ELL program. After teaching adults and students from Colombia during her summers, she realized that she wanted to teach ELL in high school.

“When I applied for West, that was the only position, ELL opening, in the whole district. Nobody quits these jobs because they’re so fun and you really get to help people,” Louis said.

The students in the program not only gain an understanding on English and the culture, they gain a caring community.

“It’s one big family, so everyone from level 1 to level 3, they know each other. They spend so much time together that they get tired of each other, they fight, they bicker, but it’s like a huge family. Everyone has each other’s backs which is really, really cool. I sometimes feel like a mom and not a teacher,” Louis said.

With so many students at West that are from international backgrounds, programs like the ELL are necessary.

“I think the ELL program is a program that if it didn’t exist, I don’t know exactly how these kids would survive,” Louis said.