Enlace Academy: How Enlace Leverages SIOP for the Benefit of Every Student

In our new series, ‘Meet Our Schools’, Teach Indy will share the work of schools across center township uplifting the vision and mission for student success through the eyes of educators in the buildings.

Enlace Academy (Enlace) is an innovation network and independent charter school serving the International Marketplace neighborhood of Indianapolis’ west side. The school was founded in 2013 and serves students in grades K-8. The vast majority of their student body identify as English Learners or come from multilingual families. 

As a result, Enlace has been intentional about the professional development it provides teachers. Much of the time, this development prioritizes the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) approach. This is a research-based framework for instruction that educators can use in planning, teaching, and assessing their lessons.

SIOP was developed specifically to support educators in best practices for serving English Learner students. It prioritizes helping educators maximize opportunities for students to interact with content-specific language and their peers. 

How Enlace Engages Educators in SIOP and English Learner Licensure

Carlota Holder is Enlace’s Director of Academic Language. She’s been at the school for over seven years and has always held up SIOP as a means of serving their students well. “SIOP always felt like the best way to meet student needs. Over 70% of our students are multilingual learners,” Holder explained. “We make it a point that all our staff are language teachers. Content and language instruction go hand-in-hand.”

A big emphasis in SIOP is giving students language objectives. That in turn helps teachers reflect on the language they are using. Educators must ultimately internalize those language objectives and understand the complexities of language in the curriculum in order to reach students who are at a variety of levels. “Math, ELA, phonics, science, and social studies, each has a content and language objective that gets communicated to students,” Holder shared. 

Bailey Rager, a 3rd Grade Teacher at Enlace, has primarily been on the receiving end of the development Enlace provides for its educators during her five years at the school. In addition to a two-week summer intensive training for teachers, educators like Rager receive weekly development. “We are always learning new approaches,” Rager said. “The biggest focus is on reaching each of our kids.”

Holder noted that they are transparent in the hiring process so that whoever they hire is clear about the student population they will be serving and what professional development will look like. “We are very intentional in using curriculum as a means of implementing SIOP. Still, teachers need to have instructional practices and routines down before they can truly leverage SIOP,” Holder explained.

In addition to Enlace’s emphasis on SIOP training in the school building, they also work hard to ensure their educators have the credentials and licensure necessary to serve their families with excellence. To make this happen, Enlace partnered with The Mind Trust and Marian University to offer English Learner Licensure during their normal professional development time for a select set of educators. As a result, Holder is leading a cohort of nine Enlace educators in achieving their English Learner license as a means of rounding out their professional skill sets in service of the student experience. 

Enlace is also quick to support the success of educators and schools beyond their four walls. Their work on SIOP has been featured a number of times in educator learning materials and by the Savvas Learning Company, a leading provider of SIOP resources. They also partnered with Teach Indy to lead sessions related to supporting English Learners during the annual Educators Conference on February 25.

SIOP as a Tool to Support All Learners

SIOP was designed with English Learners in mind. But both Rager and Holder were clear that this approach is beneficial for all students. “As a teacher who serves many different learners, SIOP has the ability to hit all the points that a student needs in their content knowledge and vocabulary,” Rager said. “It is meant to be for all kids and all students.”

Holder dug even deeper by sharing how SIOP at Enlace is really seen as best practices: “A lot of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is aligned with SIOP. Specifically in terms of data, we are using SIOP as best practices and not sequestering it to just English Learner students. Our English Learner student data is high as a result. But again, all of our students are learning academic language from SIOP.”

Enlace’s thoughtful approach to a school-wide emphasis on SIOP is garnering quality results. First, Rager noted the growth in vocabulary data over the past year in both reading and math for her students. “Using visuals and kinesthetic ways to learn vocabulary helped prepare my students for more formal tests, like NWEA,” Rager said.

Holder also noted how their SIOP implementation is leading to numerous students testing at higher levels on WIDA Access, a common proficiency assessment for English Learners.

SIOP as Key to Student Success, Engagement

SIOP requires a lot of intentionality from educators. But in the eyes of Enlace, it is clear that the benefit is worth the effort. “Students who develop language skills become more comfortable in class. Even something small can get them excited to participate or collaborate with peers,” Rager said. 

Holder put a fine point on the impact of the SIOP approach for students: “more engaged, less bored.” Holder sees the way they develop teachers with a SIOP focus paying off when she sees student confidence grow. “Our students have the mindset of, ‘I can access this,’ because we have given them the tools to do so.”

We thank the incredible educators of Enlace Academy for sharing their experience: Carlota Holder, Director of Academic Language and Bailey Rager, 3rd Grade Teacher.