Program helps ESL students prepare for kindergarten

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Imagine arriving the first day of kindergarten unable to speak English or even understand instructions about walking in a line to the lunchroom.

To make the transition easier for non-native English speakers starting school, Guilford County Schools’ pre-kindergarten and English as a Second Language departments joined forces to create ESL kindergarten camp as a pilot program in July.

More than 12 percent of Guilford County Schools’ families speak a language other than English in the home, and students speak more than 100 languages and dialects.

“Fifty percent of ESL students entering kindergarten are below proficiency in English, and many don’t know the basics like how to hold a pencil, letter recognition, colors or letter sounds,” said Mayra Hayes, ESL director. “We wanted to look at what we could do now rather than wait until the first week of school.”

The camp, which runs from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday, is being held at Rankin Elementary and Fairview Elementary. It serves students from those schools, plus Cone, Irving Park and Oak Hill elementary schools. Rankin has 50 students enrolled in the camp, and Fairview has 30.

“We’ve been working on planning this camp for almost a year,” Hayes said. “We included schools with high populations of ESL students.”

Hayes and others knocked on doors, distributed fliers, relied on word of mouth and made calls to homes in their quest to recruit ESL students for the camp.

Hayes hopes the camp helps ESL students succeed.

“Our ESL students are not meeting EOG and EOC standards; they’re not passing end-of-grade tests,” Hayes said.

ESL teacher Lindsey Hankins, site coordinator at Rankin, is excited at how well the students are doing.

“We wanted to give ESL students a jump start so that when they come at the beginning of the school year they are not focusing so much on rules and getting familiar,” Hankins said. “We wanted to give them a jump start on literacy and math, too.”

Students are learning to recognize letter and number sounds and to write their names. Each class includes a content teacher and an ESL teacher. A typical day’s schedule is similar to what students will experience when school starts. They begin with morning greetings and breakfast, then work on alphabet sounds; attend writing, math and reading centers; go to recess; spend time in the computer labs and do more reading, science and social studies work.

“It’s going beautifully,” Hayes said. “The children are like sponges, with many who didn’t know a word of English now able to speak the language some and follow directions.”

The children also go on field trips to the Greensboro Children’s Museum and Greensboro Science Center.

“This gives them exposure to things like riding an activity bus,” Hayes said.

Conella McCain, a classroom teacher for the camp and a kindergarten teacher at Cone Elementary, knows how scared many children are the first week of school and loves the idea of giving students a chance to build their confidence.

McCain has a student in her class at camp from Vietnam who excitedly started using some of her new English words to talk about a recent field trip to the Children’s Museum.

“It was a big step for her because she hadn’t been speaking,” McCain said. “It was a very rewarding moment.”

Funded by an ESL federal grant, the camp includes breakfast and lunch, as well as transportation for the children. Guilford Education Alliance provides snacks. Parent sessions are held each week, too, and include school tours, help with completing paperwork and information about volunteering. Hayes hopes the ESL kindergarten camp becomes an annual offering and is expanded to two more sites.

“We hope the camp provides a bridge for students from their experiences now to the first day,” Hayes said. “Anything we can do to build that foundation and confidence will help them to be more successful.”


Information from: News & Record,