Sheri Abdullah didn’t just welcome a new student into her kindergarten class with open arms. She welcomed her with an open mind.
Michelle's family recently moved into the district from Texas, and she didn’t speak English. So, Mrs. Abdullah did a little research and decided the best way for Michelle to learn an entirely new language was for her classmates to learn a little of hers.
“We’re trying to make her feel more comfortable. One way I learned to do that was to have more Spanish words in the classroom,” said Mrs. Abdullah.
One problem. Mrs. Abdullah doesn’t speak Spanish.
However, up one flight of stairs from her classroom is Mrs. Llaguno’s 8th grade Spanish class. Each Tuesday and Thursday, three students from that class help teach all of the kids in Mrs. Adbullah’s class some Spanish words and phrases.
“It’s been fun,” said 8th grader Alyssa Deyo.
“It’s been hard work, too,” said 8th grader Nicholas Pisano.
“Yeah, we have to prepare for everything. It’s a lot of prep work,” said 8th grader Michael Quinn.
But the work has paid off.
“They are picking this up so, so fast,” said Mrs. Abdullah.
Mrs. Abdullah has bought Spanish copies of popular children’s books to go along with the English version. She will read the English version of the book to the class, while Michelle’s English Language Learning teacher will do the same for the Spanish version. They alternate English and Spanish page by page.
“We ask the children to answer something from the English version, and they’re quiet. We ask them something from the Spanish version, and they yell out the answer,” said Mrs. Abdullah.
Michelle has benefitted as well. In two months, she has gone from knowing no English to speaking at a three-year-old level, and improving.
“She is picking up a large amount of English and feeling more comfortable in the room,” said Mrs. Abdullah. “It’s great for their brains. The research I’ve read says having a multilingual classroom at a young age is great for reading comprehension.”
“It’s an amazing learning opportunity. If we could have an immersion program, they’d be fluent by the end of first grade,” said Mrs. Llaguno. “They have one little girl in the class who speaks Spanish, and they’re already using 50 to 60 words after two months.”
Mrs. Llaguno hopes this arrangement can serve as a model for other language classes to mentor younger students in a new language.