“When we have a crisis, marginalized students and English learners are always left behind,” said Dr. Kennedy Ongaga, assistant professor in the department of counseling, leadership and special education at Missouri State University.
“During COVID-19, our homes, students’ homes, became the schools when schools moved to remote. The question becomes, what home-based assets are available or did schools leverage to support student learning?”
Ongaga’s research seeks to assess the education of English language learners (ELL) in Springfield Public Schools (SPS) during the pandemic.
The data he collects will serve as a foundation to improve and create greater support services for ELLs in times of crisis.
Asking the right questions
Ongaga will officially begin this research project in October 2021 and plans to conclude it in September 2023.
The data collection will occur in four phases:
- Surveying students, administrators, EL specialists, teachers and other staff members.
- Interviews with counselors, school nurses, social workers and psychologists.
- Focus groups with parents, teachers and students.
- Reviewing secondary data, like assessment results and test scores from DESE.
“Using secondary data, in connection with the qualitative data that we’ll get from the participants, we should be able to make evidence-based projection of what is going on,” Ongaga said.
He hopes this data will help answer questions, such as:
- What services, strategies and special accommodations did SPS implement to support ELLs learning during the pandemic?
- To what extent do ELLs perceive that their academic needs were met?
- How is communication between all parties?
- What guidance and supports are given to educators?
“For some students, school is where they take their breakfast, their lunch and sometimes dinner,” Ongaga said. “I want to know what services and programs have been used to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on the learners’ social-emotional development and their family’s wellbeing.”
Ongaga hopes to make research-based recommendations for SPS and other K-12 districts so they can be more specific in addressing the needs of such sub-groups and marginalized students.
“We have a lot of resources to rehumanize education at the time of crises – if only we can know how to leverage those resources to reach them,” Ongaga said.
Spencer Foundation funding
Ongaga’s research is funded in part by the Spencer Foundation research grant he won this fall. The foundation awards grants nationally and applicants have only a 5% chance of receiving funding.
Support from the foundation is an acknowledgment of how important this kind of work is in making a difference in the lives of students.
“I’m very sure, through these small grants, we will be able to make an impact and meaningfully partner with our K-12 school districts in addressing challenges of reaching vulnerable populations,” Ongaga said.