Monday, March 03, 2008

Schools must find ways to offer bilingual classes

A recommendation worth considering. I will always remember Ms. Barrios, a community paraprofessional in my elementary classroom, and her contributions. -Patricia

Mark Ryan | Special to the Arizona Republic
February 13, 2008

How are English speaking teachers supposed to instruct children who speak a language other than English? Teaching science, math, social studies and language arts is hard enough, but what can a teacher do when he or she only speaks English and the classroom has students who speak of other languages?

It is good to remember that children do not select the language of their home or of the school.

What happens is that a youngster walks through the classroom door and realizes that the teacher is speaking a different language than the one spoken at home.

What to do?

When a child who does not speak English enters a school where English is the primary means of instruction, we need the help of the principal, teachers, parents and community to serve the non-English speaking youngsters who come to class each day.

The reason for community help is obvious, because even if the teacher speaks another language besides English, it still might not be enough.

In fact, there are many languages to contend with in our culturally and linguistically diverse schools.

Let's get back to what our team of principals, teachers, parents and community leaders can do to help English language learners.

By actively recruiting bilingual paraprofessionals made up of parents and community volunteers, we can place another adult in the classroom to serve the needs of children.

Where can you find such people? In my experience you ask various community-oriented groups. Churches, synagogues and temples are great places to start - they have many people who understand the need to reach out and help others.

Community groups of recently arrived immigrants are another source for these volunteers, as well as retired people who want to make a difference in the lives of young people.

We know that children need to have meaningful interaction (listening, speaking, reading and writing) daily in both their home language and in English in order to fully develop their language skills.

Having another person to nurture the student in both languages with verbal interaction and engagement is both necessary and doable.

Bilingual paraprofessionals carry an inherent dual message: that one's home culture and language is valued as is the learning of English.

In other words, one does not and should not have to lose his or her native language when acquiring English.

The bilingual paraprofessional provides a nurturing classroom environment where both languages are studied and honored, and positive relationships among the school, the community and the student can grow and flourish.

Research tells us that successful schools feed off of meaningful community involvement.

Recruiting bilingual paraprofessionals from an involved community to assist bilingual children is an imperative for quality education.

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