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New strategies, technology, help Geneva D-304 bilingual students

Spanish-speaking children demonstrate how they learn English

In a demonstration of Geneva District 304's bilingual program, Harrison Street School fifth grader Bryan, who immigrated here from Mexico two months ago, shows how he uses technology to help become more proficient in English.
In a demonstration of Geneva District 304's bilingual program, Harrison Street School fifth grader Bryan, who immigrated here from Mexico two months ago, shows how he uses technology to help become more proficient in English.

GENEVA –In a demonstration of Geneva District 304’s bilingual program, Harrison Street Elementary School’s first graders showed the school board how they start each day with, “Hola! Hola!” at an Oct. 28 meeting.

Director of Learning and Teaching Shonette Sims and Harrison Spanish bilingual teachers Kelly Kanarowski and Giselle Koerner not only presented the the basics of the program, they brought students to demonstrate what they were learning.

“We have students from the program who are going to be sharing with all of us what they do to learn every day and how technology helps them to learn every day,” Sims said.

What was formerly English Language Learners is now called the Department of Multi-Lingual Services, and the program and its students are referred to as Emergent Bilinguals.

“This is something we all celebrate,” Sims said. “It is a gift that our families and students are coming to us with the ability of learning one or more than one language.”

Sims said the district has two instructional programs to serve these students, a transitional program and a transitional bilingual program.

Children in the program qualify by a home language survey in which the parents share that their children or anyone in the family speaks any language other than English, Sims said.

“Then it is our job, through a screening process, to determine which program the students would best benefit from,” Sims said.

The district gets additional federal funds to support the program, Sims said.

In Geneva, if you have 20 students in a single setting who speak a particular language, then state code requires the district to offer a bilingual program in that language, Sims said.

At Harrison Street School, 24 students speak Spanish.

“In the (Transitional Bilingual Education Program) which is the bilingual program, all courses are required to be taught in the home language of Spanish,” Sims said. “In addition, there is to be an ESL, English as a second language, and a culture course, whereby we expose the students to their heritage culture.”

The goal in all these instructional strategies is to make the content comprehensible and to ensure the students understand it in English, and that the teachers connect it to what they already know in Spanish, Sims said.

Kanarowski and three first-grade girls, Maria, Alejandra and Ashlee, demonstrated a couple of strategies they use for reading.

The children's parents preferred that their last names not be published.

“We do a lot of read-alouds in my classroom,” Kanarowski said.

She demonstrated by reading from a book out loud and then the students repeated what she read back to her.

The skill of the week, Kanarowski said, was to retell the story by telling what happened in the beginning, middle and end.

“I draw the pictures and they told me what to write so it is in Spanish,” Kanarowski said.

This is then connected to their writing, using the same graphic organizer that allows them to tell their narrative story, Kanarowski said.

She also highlights important words in English, Spanish and with a picture of what the word means.

Koerner, who teaches second through fifth grade students, introduced Bryan, a fifth grader, who immigrated from Mexico two months ago.

Bryan's parents also preferred that his last name not be published.

Bryan demonstrated how he uses technology in the classroom, showing words in Spanish and their English counterpart, narrating in both languages.

“Good morning,” Bryan said. “How are you?

Koerner said Bryan also records himself speaking so he can track his progress as he becomes more fluent in English.

The technology was also useful to translate a book so he could participate in a book club discussion of the story, Koerner said.

His progress will be passed on to his middle school teaches so they can continue his education, she said.

Sims said Bryan did the majority of the work himself that was on display for the board.

“I would like for Bryan to know how proud we are – for someone who has been here two months – how he is embodying our vision,” Sims said. “I wanted to acknowledge and thank Bryan for that.”

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