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From the ground up

Staff writer

“Education is a right not a privilege,” USD 410 Superintendent Steve Noble said.

Ellynne Wiebe teaches a few students English as a Second Language to make sure all students have the same opportunity to excel.

Wiebe is the only ESL-endorsed teacher in Marion County. She currently has five elementary school students, all from Spanish-speaking countries and spread over the six grade levels. She teaches in focused 30-minute class periods.

All HES students complete a home language survey at enrollment. If a student indicates that a language other than English is spoken in their home, students then take an English proficiency test and those who fail become ESL students.

Sometimes Wiebe has to build from the ground up. The foundation of her ESL education is listening. Although she can speak Spanish fluently, Wiebe tries to teach as much of the class as possible in English. To build her classes’ vocabulary, she uses visual examples like pictures and physical demonstrations.

One example of this teaching is Wiebe putting a ball under a desk and then on top of the desk. Concepts like “under” and “on top” are harder to illustrate and require movement.

When a student builds up a vocabulary, Wiebe moves on to exercises in speaking. Some of the more subtle differences between the two languages become evident at this juncture. Word order is different in Spanish and English. For instance, adjectives in Spanish follow nouns where as in English an adjective precedes the noun it is describes. Another example is that possession in Spanish is not represented with a letter and an apostrophe like in English.

“The doll of Maria instead of Maria’s doll,” Wiebe explained.

As the students become more comfortable with speaking English, Wiebe introduces reading and writing. Wiebe is also the Title I teacher in Hillsboro and the skills required for that position to help children read are also applicable when teaching ESL students.

Wiebe specifically cited working on phonics and comprehension with ESL students. A student’s reading fluency improved slowly, using repetitive books until students can move on to more difficult language. One of the hardest hurdles for Wiebe is the barrier between knowing enough language to get by and true understanding.

An example of the difference is academic language. For example, one of her older students was studying anatomy and was struggling with words that are not used in everyday spoken English.

“All the initial instruction is in English so they hear these words,” Wiebe said. “We used the native language of Spanish to fill in the holes.”

Most of Wiebe’s students have been in American schools prior to her instruction. In some cases, a student may have had more instruction in a school in a Spanish-speaking country. In those situations, Spanish language standardized tests are offered for math and science.

“I’d rather see them demonstrate proficiency of a math concept in Spanish than fail an English test because they don’t understand English well enough,” Wiebe said.

The students at HES have embraced their Spanish-speaking contemporaries as they have embraced speaking English.

“It’s kind of been a two-way street,” Wiebe said. “You can hear them teaching each other to count.”

A concept that Hillsboro Elementary School has considered is the idea of a bilingual classroom. When Wiebe taught in Denver, her class was divided evenly between native English and Spanish speakers to teach both languages. She said that the mutual ability of the students created a classroom culture where the two groups helped each other with the other language.

A bilingual class is something HES Principal Evan Yoder has looked into.

“I would love to be able to do that,” he said. “The sticky thing is to find time to do it.”

Last modified March 11, 2010

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