Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 23, 2000
ESL students eager to participate
School's reach out to help new arrivals learn new language
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
Salaimatu Kamara is a little fire-ball. The Grade 7 student's eyes widen when her teacher asks the class a question. She can't wait to put her hand up to answer, so she often shouts it out before her turn. She laughs and giggles and sometimes gives silly answers.
But her eagerness to participate doesn't always show up in math, social studies or science classes. It's something she reserves for her English as a Second Language class.
"In (ESL) class, these kids are letting loose a bit," said ESL teacher Kerri McLaughlin-Phillips of her zealously talkative students. "In their regular class they'll sit there like a mouse; you wouldn't hear a peep out of them."
Salaimatu, recently arrived from Sierra Leone, is one of 10 students in the ESL program at St. Catherine School in the inner city. By the end of the year, that number is expected to double, said McLaughlin-Phillips.
There are an estimated 1,000 ESL students in Edmonton Catholic Schools. These include students who are not necessarily new immigrants, but children of landed immigrants whose primary language at home is not English.
Each school adapts its program to accommodate ESL students. Funded through Alberta Learning, each ESL program is as different as each ESL student, said Bette-Anne Maydonik, an ESL consultant with Edmonton Catholic Schools.
Some of the students from other countries may already speak limited English, but Maydonik refers to this as survival, rather than academic, English.
The students are placed in age appropriate classes, not classes according to their English level. Students are not held back because of their lack of English proficiency, she said.
It is estimated that to teach conversational English to a student with survival English takes from one month to three years, and that it takes from five to seven years for them to catch up with a monolingual student.
Maydonik added the students are not treated "as people who are deficient in English, but as people who are becoming bilingual. We want to honour their first language and their ethnic background."
A warm welcome is the first and one of the most important steps in introducing a student to a school. Like any new student, an ESL student, particularly a new immigrant, needs to feel they are in a comfortable environment where they are free to take risks in their learning.
At St. Catherine's, students attend ESL classes three hours a day. For the remainder of the day they are integrated into regular classes and may have a teacher's aide to assist them.
Students stay in ESL from one month to one year depending on their grasp of the language.
Many of the students live with expectation differences between home and school. Teachers may expect a certain learning curve from them, while their parents may expect a different one.
"Our second language students are exhausted, especially that first year," Maydonik said. "We need to make the parents understand that they need to rest. Some think that if they work harder and longer, the language will come faster."
Students often do not get involved in activities in their first year because their families expect them to study hard and may consider extra-curricular activities to be less important, said Maydonik.
"We help these families understand that these kids need a complete, balanced life. They need to experience Canadian culture and customs."
Another barrier is the classroom itself. Some students come from war-torn countries and may have been away from a classroom setting for years. Some may never have attended school. It can be challenging to motivate these students.
McLaughlin-Phillips has been a teacher for 15 years, 10 of those as an ESL teacher, She has taught students from grade school to adult. All her students experience varying degrees of language and culture shock. But she says her younger students sometimes carry a bigger load than the adults.
"The biggest challenge is that they have to learn all the Alberta curriculum while learning a new language," she said of the students. "That's a lot of pressure for someone who is still trying to adapt to a new country . . . and culture."