English Language Learner class at Sycamore High School makes students feel like they belong

Claribel Robles, (left) director of the English Language Learners program for the Sycamore School District, helps freshman Shellyara Maymi Hinojosa with a math assignment during an ELL class Wednesday, April 6, 2022, at Sycamore High School.

SYCAMORE – Shellyara Maymi Hinojosa describes her favorite class as a safe space that makes her feel at home, even though the class is often filled with students speaking foreign languages.

Hinojosa, a freshman at Sycamore High School, attends an English Language Learner (ELL) class taught by Claribel Robles. Hinojosa, whose mom is Puerto Rican and dad is Mexican, speaks Spanish at home.

There are 97 ELL students in the school district, said Robles, who is the ELL program director for the Sycamore School District.

“That means that they speak another language at home that is not English,” Robles said. “We have students that speak Spanish, Arabic, Ukrainian, Portuguese, Gujarati, French and Creole.”

In Robles’ transitional program of instruction, students are immersed in English, learning the language, and grammar. During class, they receive translation help with their homework and tests.

Claribel Robles, director of the English Language Learners program for the Sycamore School District, talks to Rocio Cuautle, a sophomore, about the mural Cuautle  is working on during an ELL class Wednesday, April 6, 2022, at Sycamore High School.

“It is a safe space where students feel comfortable learning new material and where they can make sense and translate if needed,” Robles said. “Bilingual students have two jobs in one: learning a new language and learning new content. Bilingualism is a treasure, and not everyone has fluency in two languages.”

Robles teaches three ELL classes at Sycamore High School and one ELL class at Sycamore Middle School.

“The students are reading in English, learning about U.S. history, culture and customs, and working on their English language reading, writing, speaking and listening,” Robles said. “What they learn in their ELL class also helps with their language comprehension in their other classes.”

Hinojosa said that her ELL class has helped her better understand the English language.

“Although sometimes I do mess up, I can fix it and learn from my mistakes,” Hinojosa said. “The class has really helped me a lot. It’s taught me how much we can learn from each other and how different the world can be. I always feel comfortable and loved in my ELL class.”

Robles’ guidance has made a difference in her education, Hinojosa said.

“As a teacher, she does an amazing job,” Hinojosa said. “She makes everyone feel at home. She helps us understand and helps us a lot. She’s like my school mom, and I love her so much.”

Robles said she was inspired to become an ELL teacher after she participated in a bilingual program when she was in kindergarten through third grade.

“It’s helped me know how to read and write in Spanish,” Robles said. “It made my language knowledge a big asset for me. I’ve been able to use it in other fields, and I realize the importance of having the ability to understand both Spanish and English.”

William Romero, a junior at Sycamore High School, has taken ELL classes with Robles since he was in middle school. Romero, whose family is from Mexico, said he speaks Spanish at home.

“We all feel really comfortable in this room,” Romero said. “She doesn’t move on from a topic unless everyone gets it. She answers our questions and makes us feel comfortable. The class has always been a lot of fun. It helps us feel like we belong.”