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How School Counselors Can Support English Learners

By Holly Bell | October 2019

While the English learner (EL) population is growing by leaps and bounds within U.S. public schools, most school counselors don’t receive any sort of specialized training in how to work with these students or their families. School counselors are in a unique position to support the inclusion and success of English learners in Utah schools. Baseline data has revealed that English learners have the largest gap across all outcome indicators. They face unique challenges in the school system, including cultural differences, language barriers, poverty and lack of resources.

When English learners come into your school from their country of origin, cultural rules and norms can be confusing and feel very foreign. School counselors serve an important role in connecting EL students with people, opportunities and resources that will help ease their transition into your school culture. Some strategies that may help EL students’ transition are:
  • Proper course placement – placing EL students in the appropriate classes to meet their individual needs can increase school success
  • Connecting them with clubs and extra-curricular activities
  • Pairing them with a student representative, preferably one who is fluent in their native language, to acclimate them to the school. For example, they can give a tour of the building, explain the school rules and policies and introduce them to their teachers and other students
  • Ensuring that students are appropriately identified for special education services. A disproportionate number of EL students are placed in special education. English language fluency does not always correlate with a need for special education services.
  • Ensuring that students who are identified for special education services are also provided English language supports. Students should be afforded both services; one does not supersede the other.
  • Organizing small groups to foster positive school adjustment

Conversation group – In a conversation group, EL students can practice English in a safe setting, share information about their culture and personal experiences, develop social-emotional skills and learn local culture from peers.
College group – A college group can introduce EL students to the college system in the U.S., help them with admissions requirements and applications, offer writing workshops, bring in guest speakers, assist with financial aid and scholarships and offer field trips to local colleges.

  • Include families in the conversation

Provide families with resources. Organizations such as Catholic Community Services, the Refugee and Immigrant Center – Asian Association of Utah, and the English Skills Learning Center provide many services. Families of EL students can be a great resource for expanding cultural conversations in schools. Make sure they have a place at the table.
Arrange for a translator to be present at meetings with families of English learners. It is respectful to face the family during the conversation, not the translator.
Provide translated correspondence, resources, and documents in preferred language.

Additional Resources: Contact Holly Bell, USCA past president, at