Language learners: Noblesville Schools’ multilingual learning program helps diverse student population


Noblesville Schools’ student population represents a large diversity of culture and languages.

There are 53 languages and 65 different countries represented in the Noblesville school district.

Shelley Bethel, the executive director of equity and inclusion for Noblesville Schools, said the top six languages are Spanish, Arabic, Punjabi, Russian, Mandarin Chinese and Hindi.

“A few years back, we shifted from EL programming to EL education, educating students, staff and families,” said Bethel, who oversees the English language learners program.

Bethel said the district has begun using the term “multilingual learners” more.

“Many of our students are just learning English, but they speak multiple languages,” Bethel said.

There are approximately 1,000 students from elementary, middle school and high school in those classes. That is approximately 10 percent of the district’s student population.

“The two elementary schools with the largest EL population are Promise Road and White River, and then it’s Noblesville East Middle School and the high school,” Bethel said. “Some of the students might speak multiple languages they have in common. We have EL collaborative schoolteachers at each school building. We have EL-certified teachers and instructional assistants. There is a team of about 18 staff members. Our EL students over the past 10 years have doubled, and our team has doubled to match that.”

Noblesville Schools’ bilingual family liaison Wendy Nelson connects the families to the schools.

“Our focus is not only the student academically, but we encompass the relationship and foster a sense of belonging for our families through programming and an event at Forest Park for all of our families, teachers, administrators and family members to welcome them into the Noblesville school community,” Bethel said.

The EL collaborative teachers attend a student’s other classes, such as math or social studies, to support them with any language comprehension issues.

“We work with the teachers to make sure the students can access the curriculum,” said Mieke Lambrecht-Kendrick, a collaborative EL teacher for Noblesville East. “That requires meeting with the teams and prepping with the teams. We don’t want to put the students away from the educational experience. Nobody knows their math as well as the math teacher, so if they can stay in the room and we can help make the material accessible, they will thrive.”

A newcomers’ class will start at Noblesville East and West middle schools in the fall.

“It will provide a common space for newcomers to share culture, share language and just become acclimated in a safe space where they may have similar experiences,” Bethel said.

Marnie Cooke, executive director of marketing and communications for Noblesville Schools, said Nelson has learned there are some nations where if it rains, parents don’t send the students to school.

“In some countries, you’d be a bad parent if you sent your kid to school when it’s raining,” Cooke said.

Cooke said Nelson can explain the school system’s norms to those parents.

Lambrecht-Kendrick, originally from Belgium, speaks six languages: Flemish, English, Dutch, German, French and Spanish. Lambrecht-Kendrick met her husband, Frank Kendrick, a former Purdue University standout, when he was playing basketball overseas. Her native language, Flemish, is not a written language, only a spoken one. She learned Dutch next and then French in school.

“I get pretty excited when the student’s second language might be French,” Lambrecht-Kendrick said. “The biggest challenge, but a good challenge, is making sure we meet the children where they are but at the same time set high expectations.”

The biggest challenge is when students come to the U.S. after their education has been interrupted in their home country by war or the COVID-19 pandemic. Lambrecht-Kendrick said a student from another country might come into the seventh grade, but their education might have been halted in fourth grade.

Lambrecht-Kendrick said social language is learned more quickly, but academic language is far more challenging.

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Noblesville East Middle School eighth-grader Kabir Khairi, who is from Afghanistan, pauses by a poster of flags. (Photo by Adam Seif)

EL program helps Afghan student

Kabir Khairi, who is from Afghanistan, is one student benefiting from the English language learners class.

“I know a lot more English now,” the eighth-grader said.

School is much different in the U.S., Khairi said.

“The teachers are kind,” said Khairi, who started at Noblesville East in the fall of 2022. “They are teaching us on our iPads and we’re not walking to school. The school day is shorter (in Afghanistan). It’s only three hours.”

Khairi, whose favorite subject is math, said English was the hardest language to learn.

“I’m speaking Persian in my home, but at school I have to speak English,” said Khairi, who also speaks Uzbek and is learning Spanish.