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Gainesville students become teachers
High schoolers take their knowledge to elementary schools
Gainesville High School junior Angel Reyes, 16, teaches fourth-grader Kimberly Pham, 10, how to write greetings in Chinese on Wednesday during an after-school program at Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Teens from Gainesville High School will enter classrooms in the district not as students but as instructors.

The Gainesville school district is experimenting with a new program aimed at the elementary grades, Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said.

Each week, high school students will take the lessons they've learned in class to children across the district.

"We're recycling learning," Dyer said. "The students can offer things that we may not be able to offer in schools."

Dyer said the district budget wouldn't allow for additional staff hires this year, which prompted officials to look at other resources to expand school programs.

The first area of study they decided to support was foreign language.

Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School was in need of a French class, after a few native French students enrolled. As an IB school, part of the mission is to help students retain their native language.

"Usually we would approach college students," Dyer said.

But foreign language instructors from Gainesville High School said some of their advanced students would be willing to step in.

Over the past few weeks, French students were bused to Fair Street each Monday near the end of the school day. And on Wednesday, the high school launched a student-taught Mandarin Chinese class.

Leticia Zaragoza, 17, is a fourth-year Mandarin Chinese student and said she was surprised at how quickly the Fair Street students were grasping the language.

"It took me forever to learn how to say ‘ni hao' properly, but they're getting it right away," she said. The phrase, meaning hello, sounds similar to "knee how," she explained to the children.

For their first Chinese lesson, Zaragoza, junior Angel Reyes and senior Austin Stanley, reviewed greetings such as "my name is" and "nice to meet you."

The high school students used some of the materials in the classroom to help the children perform a puppet show using the phrases.

"It was fun to try it," Stanley said.

The Mandarin Chinese class, held in teacher Melissa Fraser's classroom, was composed of elementary students from different grade levels who signed up for the course.

Erin Rassel, 9, said the teenagers were helpful and funny. She said she's looking forward to next week.

"They're kids like us. It's fun to learn with kids," Rassel said.

Dyer has been talking with other teachers in the district about expanding the program further and including more subject areas.

She said the challenge will be to figure out the scheduling, as the class times won't always match up.

Next year, the French and Chinese classes at Fair Street will occur during the high school students' lunch time.

"It's something we're figuring out," she said.

The district will next look at having advanced three-year physical education students teach in elementary and middle schools.

Dyer said the students would introduce children to various sports, including those they may not be as familiar with such as cross country and volleyball.

Dyer said the lessons may inspire students to participate in sports in the future and gives the children a role model.

Though a high school mentor program has been in place for years, having the students develop the lesson plans is new to Gainesville, Dyer said.

"We've tapped into a whole new realm," she said.

Dyer said she expects the program will continue into next school year.