Thursday, April 23, 2009

Second Language Learners

Tonight I had the honor of attending our county's celebration of second language learners. To my thrill one of the general education students in my first grade classroom was honored as the "Chets Creek Second Language Learner of the Year." She is Armenian and I remember so well her journey into our school. Actually, who could forget! She entered shyly almost hidden behind her mother's dress. I don't know who looked more frightened, our little kindergartner or her mom! I think we peeled her off her mom that first day and for many days after that. She was terrified. When I would sit with the class at lunchtime, I would often find her in tears. She would be worried about a host of things, but most often that her mom would not be there at the end of the day. Those were such tearful times and there were mornings when I wondered if we would ever have a day without tears. I can only imagine her fears as she walked into that classroom each day understanding so little of the language and what was going on. I think of how brave her mom was to leave her. She too understood little of our language and customs and yet, she somehow found the courage to trust.

It's hard to reconcile those images with the happy, outgoing little first grader I see today. When I sit with her today at lunch she chatters endlessly (I barely get a word in!) She chatters about her family and her friends. She is a great little reader and has assimilated into our class culture in a way that is very Americanized.

She is only one of the 262 students we have this year at Chets Creek who entered with families that speak a second language and qualify for some level of second language support. That is about 18% of our total population. We support families who speak 21 different languages! We are so very fortunate to have an assistant assigned to our school who works with our students and who understands both the student and family needs. My student is only one of the many success stories that we see every day. We are fortunate to have this type of diversity in our school. In my own classroom, my own mini-United Nations, we have students whose parents are first generation from the Sudan, Mexico, Korea, and Poland in addition to Armenia.

In fact we have a kindergarten bulletin board up in the building right now that demonstrates a young student's growth over time in both English and Japanese. While reading a book that was written in both English and Japanese to their class, kindergarten teachers Debbie Cothern and Michelle Ellis realized that one of their students could not only read the English version, but actually read the Japanese version of the book as well!
As they investigated further, the student explained that she is learning to read and write in both languages. Their board shows her growth over time first in Japanese and then in English!
The world is getting smaller every day!

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