These students have not only mastered English during their time at MNPS - they're graduating at the top of their class.


“My parents came to the United States to find a hopeful opportunity. They told me about the societies they grew up in and I always think about how fortunate [I am to live in] the country I live in. Ever since I was in seventh grade, I had an incentive to work hard to fulfill myself. I never thought I would be Salutatorian, because I am [a] first-generation American graduating from high school and going into college.” - Julie Martinez, a Metro Nashville Public Schools salutatorian from Nashville School of the Arts 

This story rings true not just for Julie, but for many of the 14,000 active English learners (EL) in Metro Nashville Public Schools. On average, MNPS welcomes more than 1,000 EL students into our schools and classrooms every year. Our students come to us from more than 130 different countries.  We believe our diversity makes us stronger – it tells a unique story, enriches the conversations in our classrooms and the connections in our schools and neighborhoods.  

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This year, MNPS will graduate 11 former English learner students as valedictorians and salutatorians of their graduating class – students from Egypt, Iraq, Mexico, Vietnam – who came to this country with their families in search of opportunities, but who did not speak any English when they walked through the doors of their first Metro School. In their time at MNPS, these students have not only mastered English, but they have overcome challenges too long to list to become the highest performing students in their class.  

What does an achievement like this require? Aside from the personal drive, grit and motivation within each student, MNPS has created a successful English Learners program that prepares these students with the social, emotional, cultural, linguistic (listening, speaking, reading and writing skills) and academic skills they need to excel, both in school and after school, no matter where they come from. 



Thirty-one percent of Tennessee’s EL students are enrolled in MNPS. To support these unique students, a robust professional development program is required so teachers and support staff have the resources they need to serve our EL students on their journey to English fluency, regardless of their starting comprehension level.  

“We strive to offer comprehensive professional development for content teachers and English learner teachers to support EL students throughout their day,” said Molly Stovall Hegwood,  Executive Director of the Office of English Learners.  

As of July 2018, MNPS administered training for:  

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  • More than 5,550 EL professional development sessions were given to content classroom teachers  

  • More than 2,380 EL professional development sessions were given to the district’s 750 EL teachers 

  • More than 39 principals participated in EL-specific professional development, and another 329 administrators participated  

  • Other school personnel and community-based organizations participated in more than 720 professional development sessions 

This professional development emphasis directly correlates to success in the classroom – most students exit the EL program within six years, and this year’s valedictorians and salutations graduated the program within anywhere from two to four years. It makes a difference in the lives of MNPS students, too.  

“I have had the most amazing teachers who have inspired me to never give up and to keep working hard,” said Veen Tovi, salutatorian at Hillwood High School. “The only reason I made it this far was because of the amazing teachers I had by my side.”  

Starting in elementary school, English learners receive additional support in the classroom and through extended programming to accelerate their language growth. In middle and high school, English learners have specific language development classes. These classes are intentionally smaller in size so students have access to the individual attention learning a new language requires. Students have more one-on-one time with EL teachers to master grade-level literacy standards.  

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“Throughout my life, I have faced many obstacles of which I have had to overcome,” said Lesli Garcia salutatorian from Hunters Lane High School, “My education had a significant impact on my achievements as I was always met by supportive teachers who saw the potential in me. I felt I was in an encouraging environment where I could thrive not only academically, but also develop into a well-rounded individual.” 

An equally important part of English learners assimilating to a new country, new language and new school routines is the social and emotional support our counselors offer to students outside of the classroom. The counseling department and our school counselors have an integral role in the development and success of EL students.  

“Our primary goal is to help each student feel safe and supported.  We want them to realize they can still be who they are; and [we can support them] by helping them find where, or how, they find their place within the school and community culture. It is a huge part of the process,” said Dr. Megan Cusson-Lark, executive director of School Counseling. 

Our community partners are crucial to success of families and students integrating into life in Nashville. Community partners create additional opportunities for families through English classes, citizenship assistance, counseling services, and advocacy.  Just as these students come to Metro Schools, so too do their families as citizens of Nashville. We work with many different community partners to support students and their families as they transition to Nashville and the United States.  

 Our English learner program challenges our students and helps them succeed, while protecting their own unique cultural identify. These 11 valedictorians and salutatorians prove anything is possible with the right supports in place, both in the classroom and in the community. Congratulations to our Class of 2019 Valedictorian and Salutatorian former EL students!