Kindergartners leap ahead with English skills
Updated: July 3, 2012 9:39AM
One is a picture of a girl from Korea, the other a picture of a girl from Pakistan.
Hung near the door of Meyer School’s Project Leap kindergarten classroom, they were taken just after teacher Mandy Yom and assistant teacher Aashia Shahid arrived in this country.
Now, the adult teachers are helping kindergarten students from other countries going through the same assimilation they experienced.
Some of the kids they teach know no English, others have rudimentary social English skills.
“We follow the same program that all the other kindergarten programs are following,” said Shahid.
But the students receive more individualized attention and there is great focus on visual and creative skills, art projects and experiential learning.
“We are also closer to the families because we know how it is,” Shahid says. “We understand the problems the parents are facing and where they’re coming from. We get so attached to them.”
The results speak— literally — for themselves.
Hawraa, a pretty girl who immigrated from Iraq, came to Meyer only a few months ago not knowing English. Shahid said the girl initially made movements and gestures to try to communicate. But the teachers were “clueless” in trying to respond, she said.
Today, she converses in full sentences, sometimes punctuated by a shy smile.
Yom brings an infectious enthusiasm to the classroom and has a warm and loving rapport with her children.
She taught ESL before she was tapped to lead the Project Leap classroom.
Yom came to the United States on her eighth birthday, her parents giving her “the gift of education,” she said.
She grew up in Wisconsin, which wasn’t diverse.
“They definitely didn’t have programs like this,” Yom said. “It was the old traditional sink or swim model. You were just kind of thrown into the classroom.”
Although she was of second grade age, Yom was placed in kindergarten because she didn’t speak English.
“There wasn’t a proper protocol at that time so they thought I was little and did not know English so I should start from the beginning.”
Yom’s development was successful — she says kids at that age just naturally pick up a lot — but the Project Leap program has been a big boost for children in a similar situation.
“It’s amazing how much language they pick up in such a short period of time,” she said.
The class is devoted to helping children not only learn English but connect ideas to the real world, Yom said.
“We have that luxury because we are such a unique class,” she said.
The teachers, for example, have monthly cooking activities where kids learn measuring and numbers.
“Some of them have never had a pancake,” Yom said. “We’re about acculturation, too. Some of these things we haven’t experienced either so it’s fun. We feel we need to give them that at school.”