Four weeks into the school year, 60 students are already becoming bilingual.
At the Hall County Early Language Development Center, housed at former Jones Elementary School, four classes of kindergartners are learning half of the day in English and half of the day in Spanish.
“The basis here is that children learn English faster if they’re literate in their first language,” said Lois Myers, who heads up the new center and is principal at Lyman Hall Elementary School. “All of these students have no English or limited English skills, and the teachers have been really impressed with the performance of the kids in just one month.”
The four teachers — two English and two Spanish — pair up with 30 students to teach reading and math objectives in English and Spanish each day. The science and social studies objectives are included in the reading portions of the day.
What the students learn in one section is then reinforced in the other language later in the day, such as counting objects and learning letters of the alphabet.
“In Spanish, they can go beyond learning letters and begin making predictions and get into higher thinking,” said Diana Ramirez, one of the Spanish teachers. “So when they get to the English class, they already talked about it and already had practice.”
The best part for the teachers? They see a difference each day.
“It’s like night and day from the beginning of the school year, and every day we see more in terms of vocabulary,” said Revonda Kimbrell, one of the English teachers. “The students are beginning to talk to us (English teachers) more because they see more English and feel more comfortable by being here.”
It’s also rewarding to see them learn life skills, such as navigating the cafeteria and knowing how to stand in a line to walk down the halls.
“They’re like little sponges,” Ramirez said. “They didn’t know how to handle a tray and silverware at the same time on the first day, and now they look so confident and mature. All of those skills you take for granted.”
Ramirez and Kimbrell teach half of the students, and Carolina Chacon and Sherry Savage pair up for the other 30 students.
The four teachers organize the entire program and work with more than 30 Gainesville State College and North Georgia College & State University student interns in the classroom.
“It’s a demo site for the college students, showcasing best practices for early literacy and immersion programs,” Myers said. “All the students help out in the classrooms and are paired up with children. r.”
The four teachers say they also are excited to get started with parental involvement programs, which will help parents to keep teaching their children at home.
“We’ll give ideas for after-school routines and how to be independent at home,” Chacon said. Students began taking home reading books on Monday. “It’s important to build reading routines and behaviors at home.”
The teachers created a “communication folder,” which gives color-coded explanations for each student’s behavior.
They’re also building up a collection of books in the library to encourage parents to come in and read with their children.
“There’s this idea that Hispanic parents aren’t very involved, but I don’t feel that way. When you call them, they’re there and they’re open-minded,” Ramirez said. “They explain what’s going on at home, and they’re very honest. They ask for help when they don’t know what to do with their kids, and I like that.”
On Oct. 21, United Way volunteers are helping to update the school. They’ll create “international hopscotch” and paint various versions used in different countries, donate books to the media center and create a garden outside one of the classrooms so students can grow plants.
“It’s like a dream,” Myers said. “This is a situation that helps everybody who’s involved. The kids are getting the support they need with language acquisition and to become bilingual, and it’s a wonderful opportunity for college students to be better prepared for the work force once they graduate. It’s just a delightful place to be.”