ELL Students Continue Learning, Growth in Summer
Summer is no time to relax for students faced with adapting to new surroundings in a new culture besides trying to catch up and keep up in school. That’s why Des Moines Public Schools offers the Summer Enrichment Opportunity to the district’s large and still growing population of English Language Learners.
Thursday morning at Meredith Middle School and Hoover High School a Language Fair served the dual purpose of a crash course in Iowa’s corny culture for ELL students and a practicum for teachers learning how to work with them.
Collectively the summer ELL sites at Hoover/Meredith, Callanan Middle School and Windsor, Lovejoy and Stowe Elementaries are serving more than 300 students, according to Vinh Nguyen, the district’s ELL Coordinator. Most of them are at Level 1 or 2 on a scale with 5 being the highest level prior to classroom mainstreaming.
“The program provides opportunities for ELL students to develop language skills in reading, writing, speaking and listening. It also helps them assimilate through fieldtrips and activities,” Nguyen said.
Sarah Pratt, the official Iowa State Fair butter cow sculptress, was on hand Thursday in the Hoover library for the keynote presentation in what amounted to an immersion in a thick batter of Iowana for the students there to whom deep-fried foods stuck on sticks are, in a word, foreign.
Also on hand was a contingent of 22 teachers, many of them from DMPS, who are completing work towards their ELL endorsements at Drake University this summer. One of them is Sarah Harvey who teaches 3rd grade at River Woods Elementary School, where she’s been for five years.
“We have many ELL students at River Woods and I decided to pursue my ELL endorsement so I can learn even more about their personal stories,” she said. “It’s not just about teaching them what they need to make progress here, it’s also about learning from them. Many of them are refugees.”
Together the students and the teachers played games in the spirit of the state fair and practiced ways to communicate with each other through gestures and signals that tap into the universal languages of human emotions.
“The group here this morning is grades 6-10,” said Meredith ELL teacher Kathy Winger who coordinated the event. “Most of them are from Meredith, Harding, Hoover, and North, although there are a few incoming 6th graders from Samuelson, Monroe, and Oak Park. Our goal is to create a meaningful experience for the students by introducing them to a popular Iowa event, while giving prospective ELL teachers some experience working with a diverse group of students to help meet their certification requirements.”
There were no corn dogs to be had but a popcorn machine and some theme music combined to create at least a small semblance of the state fair vibe. And lots of smiles during vocabulary bingo games and pantomimes of activities popular at the fairgrounds suggested a taste for life here is fast being acquired.
What better ambassadors than patient, caring teachers, a 600 pound cow made of butter and a bag of popcorn?
Schools, and fairs, are the soil where Iowans grow best.