Corron Elementary School English Language Learner teachers Amanda Clabough and Abby Ortega know how language can be a barrier.
They support students whose native language is not English. The students they serve at Corron speak more than 20 languages, including Spanish, Hindi, Urdu, Malayalam, Romanian and Polish.
“We are mostly thinking about how we can support their English language structures,” Clabough said. “So when they’re translating from their native language back into English, we’re making sure their syntax is in order. We’re really working on building that academic vocabulary so that they’re able to access everything within the classroom.”
They also work with the students on their listening skills as well as their reading and writing skills. Ortega works with students in kindergarten through first grade and Clabough works with students in second through fifth grades.
In many cases, the parents of the students speak another language, which is why the students qualify for ELL services.
“They are not getting 100% English at home and 100% exposure,” Clabough said. “So they qualify on that level. Or some of our students do speak another language and they are not necessarily completely fluent in both, so we’re really supporting that English structure and that buildup here. We do occasionally get newcomers that come from another country.”
Clabough speaks only English, although she is learning a second language – Japanese.
“My husband’s family is Japanese,” she said.
In order to teach students coming from another country, they use visuals and hands-on activities as well as songs.
“They’re not just sitting there listening and trying to repeat what you’re saying,” Ortega said. “Instead, they’re being involved themselves and remembering it because it might go along with a hand motion or it might go along with a picture. There’s definitely times where you say something and a student hears it differently. So you’re clarifying and you’re using visuals.”
Ortega said the younger students are not nervous about trying things.
“They’re willing to take risks and to try it,” she said. “And if it’s not quite right, they’re OK with that and they’ll try again.”
“We’re really working on building that academic vocabulary so that they’re able to access everything within the classroom.”— Corron Elementary School teacher Amanda Clabough
Clabough and Otega constantly are working together.
“We’re like two peas in a pod, so we’re constantly bouncing everything off of each other,” Clabough said. “And it helps to be able to get a good perspective of the students that she has coming to me. I think I know them already once they’re on my caseload because of what I’ve learned from Abby and as we talk about those students.”
Clabough feels like she is growing with the students as they are learning.
“I think my favorite part is being able to grow with the students and being able to work with them year after year and build those very deep relationships with them where I feel I’m the person they feel the most comfortable turning to when they need something or they always feel like they’re in a safe space and can take a risk when they’re with me,” Clabough said.
“Seeing them grow throughout the years it’s just really rewarding to see how they start out as a kindergartner and how much they grow by the time they leave us in fifth grade,” she said. “And we get to be a part of that whole journey instead of just one year of it.”
The students pass on what they have learned to their families.
“We’re working with the kids, but we’re also working with the parents and the classroom teachers because we can’t be in their rooms all the time,” Ortega said. “Our role is kind of like with everybody.”
Corron Principal Christine Balaskovits is impressed with how Clabough and Otega work with the students. She said that not only do they get to know their students, they also build connections with their families.
“Speaking a different language, often families don’t feel comfortable coming into school and asking questions or things like that,” Balaskovits said. “And so they’re very intentional about their family relationships as well.”
Both staff and students celebrate the school’s diversity.
“I’ve learned a lot about all the different cultures and their customs,” she said. “We had a huge Diwali celebration here earlier in the school year. And we’ve had parents come in at lunchtime and talk about the customs of Pakistan.”