LEWISTON — Just-elected secretary for next year’s Lewiston High School sophomore class, Ilham Mohamed, recently gave a speech that wowed.

“It was fantastic,” said education technician Jeannine Cole. “She didn’t have notes, all from memory. People are still talking about it.”

When Mohamed enrolled in the sixth grade at Longley Elementary School in 2010, she didn’t speak English.

She and Abdifatah Alew, both 15, are among 63 Lewiston students who passed a test to leave the English Language Learner program this year. Last year, 36 students passed the test.

The test is “pretty difficult,” high school ELL teacher Jim Koch said.

Many states require a score of 4 or 5; Maine requires a perfect score of 6.


“If that same test was given to everyone, we would find many of our native-speaking students or general public would have some difficulty,” Superintendent Bill Webster said.

The reason more students no longer need ELL help is credited to improvements at Lewiston Middle School’s ELL program where more students are mainstreamed.

Of the 63 students who passed the test this year, 25 were freshmen,” Koch said.

More mainstreaming helped, he said. “Like all of us, when they’re together they’re going to slip into Somali,” Koch said. “When they’re mainstreamed, they don’t have that crutch.”

Of Lewiston’s 5,224 students, more than 22 percent are ELL students, ELL Director Kristie Clark said. Many are from Somali families.

As required by law, all ELL students are given an ACCESS test once a year that determines where that student is in academic English proficiency. It isn’t just speaking and understanding English; it involves knowing the language well enough to perform schoolwork. Students are tested in four areas: reading, writing, speaking and listening.


Alew, who is enrolled in honor courses, has taken the test every year. Last year, he achieved a 5.8. “I was really close,” he said. “The listening part is kind of hard.”

His parents were born in Somalia and came to the United States before he was born in Georgia. His family speaks English and some Somali at home.

He came to Lewiston when he was 7 years old and enrolled in the second grade at McMahon Elementary School. Adapting to a new school “wasn’t that difficult,” Alew said. He likes basketball, math and science, and plans a career in math and science after college.

Mohamed was born in Djibouti, a French-speaking country in East Africa. Her first language was French, then she learned Arabic. She’s now learning her fifth language, Japanese.

She came to Lewiston with her family at age 11 and enrolled at Longley Elementary. “I didn’t speak good English. They asked me my name. I answered in French.”

By the second week of school she was well-adjusted, she said. “I’m a person that adapts so fast.” Within a year she spoke English well, but writing in English took time.


“I had to learn how to write essays.” She learned by translating words from French to English at home. “I kept doing that.”

Asked if she likes school, Mohamed said, “Oh, I love it. Some people don’t love it. I don’t get it.”

Mohamed plans to go to college in Japan and become a pediatrician.

The abilities of Lewiston’s ELL students range from students such as Mohamed and Alew who take honor courses to students new to the country who have never attended school.

Koch teaches a newcomer class at Lewiston High.

“I have a student who’s 19,” Koch said. “She’s just starting school.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: