Horizon Science Academy Southwest shares best ESL teaching practices with Illinois charters

Since its inception in 2014, Horizon Science Academy Southwest Chicago has been one of the shining examples of how charter schools can properly implement Multilingual Learning (ML) practices in Illinois. 

At the convergence of Chicago’s Gage Park, Brighton Park, Englewood, and Back of the Yards neighborhoods, HSA’s trailblazing efforts in supporting the learning of students who speak multiple languages is one of the many reasons it was referred to lead the first session the Illinois Network of Charter Schools is hosting to connect charters around the state. 

During the 90-minute seminar at HSA’s campus on May 23, school leaders and teachers shared their best practices for how to navigate language program reviews, building a strong bilingual education model and adapting their teaching methods to accommodate multilingualism and multicultural education.  

The event’s organizer, HSA’s Bilingual/ESL coordinator Paola Bonilla, stressed the importance of investing in ML programs, as more students come into schools from a variety of cultural backgrounds. 

“I have lived in Chicago my entire life and, having children of my own, (I know) we need more,” said Bonilla. “We need to advocate for bilingual education. It’s my purpose. It’s my ‘why’ and it should be all of your ‘whys’.” 

Bonilla, who shared her personal experience migrating to Chicago with her family when she was six years old, credited HSA Southwest’s principal Dr. Stephen Palmerin for his openness to expanding the program. When Bonilla arrived at the school in 2019, HSA only had three teachers who were ESL endorsed. That number has jumped to 23 as the school has dedicated more resources to its bilingual education program, including reimbursing teachers who go back to school to get their ESL endorsement.

“This isn’t a one-man show,” Bonilla said. “I rely on the whole administration. I am thankful for my administration because I’m always coming into Dr. Palmerin’s office and saying, ‘we need this’ and he says, ‘OK let’s talk about it.’ It takes a team and I’m grateful we support multilingual education.” 

HSA parents came to express their support for what the school has done for their families over the years. Guadalupe Perez, the secretary of the school’s Bilingual Parent Advisory Committee (BPAC), discussed how her child went from being bullied for not understanding English to being a confident, fluent English speaker. BPAC president Sandra Bucio added she was able to learn English as her sixth grade ML son mastered Spanish while he was going through the program. Brought nearly to tears, Perez expressed great appreciation for how HSA’s efforts have brought her family culturally together. 

“It's nice to have a place where students who come from bilingual households have a place where they do not feel discriminated (against) or discouraged due to a lack of understanding or speech impediment,” Perez said. “The ESL program is considered a safe haven for them so I encourage parents to advocate and support our school.” 

After a successful first session, INCS plans on hosting more events that bring together Illinois charter schools across the state. Schools like Noble Academy, HSA McKinley Park and Elgin Math and Science Academy were in attendance and plan on congregating again to learn more about how they can get the most out of the charter school model. 

“INCS is very, very important,” said Elgin Math and Science Academy representative Jacqueline Miller. “Their advocacy work is something that's impacting us really heavily right now. We’re working with our families to make sure that we're fighting against legislation that doesn't support charter schools and trying to push through legislation that does. 

“Their advocacy work is really important. I'm excited that they're creating more networking events.” 

Horizon Science Academy Southwest is a public charter school managed by the award-winning charter management organization Concept Schools.


Operated by Concept Schools