Armwood High School students create English Language Learners Bill

Lily Belcher, Staff Writer

Two-term Florida Republican Representative Kevin Ambler originally began the county wide “Ought to Be A Law” competition to encourage students to propose bills to congress.  Fifteen years later, Kevin Ambler is out of office, but Armwood High School civics teacher, Tony Pirotta, and his students kept it going.

Senior Maria Medina noticed one of her fellow classmates, who transferred to Hillsborough County’s Armwood High School after moving from Cuba, struggling with English.  Her classmate was passing all her other classes with flying colors, except for English.  English Graduation Tests assume the test taker understands the language fluently.  The student has already completed the English Language Learner’s program (a program designed to teach non-native speakers English), but those classes, crammed into 4-7 years, cannot teach the entirety of the English language.  The fine-tuning that comes in high school level English classes can’t be understood by students who are still struggling to learn the complicated components of the English language.  Therefore, understanding English on the level they are expected to understand for English tests is nearly impossible-which is where Pirotta’s student’s bill comes in.

House Bill 143/ Senate Bill 376, the most recent bills originating from Tony Pirotta’s civics club, “exempts certain English Language Learners from specified graduation requirement[s].”  In this case, the graduation requirement would be English Graduation Tests.  Both bills have been referred to their respective house’s “PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee” on September 23 and hope to be approved by July 1, 2020.

In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, senior Haley Manigold says “We believe that every student deserves an equal opportunity.  If you take a test and you can’t understand it, then the test is not effectively showing what you know.”

Similar bills have been introduced by Democratic Senator Annette Taddeo and Democratic Representative Cindy Polo (HB 1213/SB 1590).  These bills state that non-native English speakers should be able to take tests required for graduation in their native language.

Many students have joined Pirotta’s it “Ought to Be A Law Club” to help their fellow classmates who are challenged by the English requirement.  Zachary Mills, a member of the club says, “I just want to be part of the group that makes things better.”

With the help of their teacher, the members of the club have communicated with Democratic Florida Representative Susan Valdes, who has assisted the students in getting the bill into its respective committee and onto the Senate and House floor.  The English Language Learners bill will increase graduation rates for non-native English-speaking students and will promote fair high school testing for students of all nationalities.  Haley Manigold and a few of her classmates hope to travel to Tallahassee to lobby the bill in Congress for the 2020 Legislative Session, which begins January 14.