Learning a new language

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'It's always a bit stressful to start a new school, so I'm sure it is an added stress for [limited English proficient] students.'

By James Roberts

With her teacher sitting beside her, 7-year-old Karen Ramos-Diaz reads aloud from a book. She reads with a great deal of confidence, only struggling with a couple of words. Surprising, considering that a few years ago, Karen spoke little English at all.

Karen is among the 32 limited English proficient students at local public schools. Between both schools, the students with limited English proficiency students speak Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Vietnamese and Arabic.

Starting classes at a new school can be stressful enough, but when most of your classmates speak a different language, it could become more stressful, Shannon Cox, a Reading Recovery and English as a Second Language teacher at TCES, said.

"It's always a bit stressful to start a new school, so I'm sure it is an added stress for [limited English proficient] students," she said. "In my experience, the younger students seem to deal with it much easier. I think it's because of the universal language of play. It's like when my daughter was little she would say that nothing mattered as long as they could play."

Kent Settle, Campbellsville Independent instructional supervisor, agrees.

"Most of our [ESL - or English as a Second Language - students] are between first and third grade. They've all been really successful and I think it's because they are young."

When a student with limited English proficiency enrolls at a public school, they take a test to determine their level of English proficiency. From there, a learning plan is developed for that student.

"They still have the same content [as other students], just with some modifications," Cox said.

The students are in the regular classroom.

"Research says that is the best thing we can do," Settle said.

ESL teachers collaborate with classroom teachers, pull students out of the classroom for extra help if needed and will also go into the classroom.

Both schools use the Full English Immersion program. According to Settle, this program provides "instruction in listening, speaking, reading and writing. This program also includes an orientation to American culture."

Success in the program is measured each year, Settle said, with the Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State test, also known as ACCESS.

Once the students reach proficiency, federal guidelines mandate that they are monitored for at least a year.

Communication with parents can often provide a barrier for the schools, Cox said. However, Campbellsville University provides an interpreter.

"We send things home in their native language so their parents will know what's going on at school and with their child," Cox said. "Our ESL students have great parents. They really value education, so they help us as much as possible."

Karen is a perfect example of that, Cox said. Karen's older sister also participated in the ESL program and when she did homework, Karen was right there learning alongside her.

"She does really well because of that. Her parents have been great to work with."

Cox said the most rewarding aspect of being involved in the program is the cultural exchange that takes place.

"Above all else, we really love and care about these children. I love these kids and what they have to offer our school and community. They are such a joy to work with. I truly feel blessed to have such a wonderful job."

- Staff Writer James Roberts can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 226 or by e-mail at writer@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.

Want to Learn?

Campbellsville University's Department of English as a Second Language offers free "ESL in the community" classes for international individuals in this and surrounding communities in need of gaining or improving their English language skills.

The program has already begun, but there is continuing open enrollment. Meetings are on CU's campus in Winters Dining Hall in side room D from 9 to 10 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The courses will continue through the spring semester and into the summer months.

The classes are for both intermediate and beginning levels of English instruction and are taught by CU trained ESL instructors.

For more information, contact Susan Walters, coordinator of the ESL project, at 465-4954.