by Kirsten Hope
I went to Leal Elementary School yesterday to visit some of our students who work with bilingual children there. Finally, I found the experience that I was expecting when going into a school! Leal is everything I expect when I hear "bilingual education." I didn't get to spend a whole lot of time in each classroom (I visited three), but every class had different things going on, and it was really interesting to see our volunteers working on different projects with the students. In the first classroom I visited, our student Jill Novak was in the hall reading Charlotte's Web in Spanish with three chicas. Actually, the girls took turns reading while Jill moderated them. At the end of each chapter, she asked the girls to summarize what they had just read, and occasionally asked them to make predictions about what would happen next. The girls told me that they really liked the story and enjoyed the reading. In the second classroom, I met Dave Barron, who was working with three chicos on writing letters. Like Jill, Dave guided the students through the steps of writing a letter and helped them to sound out words that they didn't know. The students seemed to really like having a university student there helping them, and constantly wanted his attention! They told stories or started tangents just so that they could interact with him (or so it seemed)! Finally, I visited Liz Sorokin in grade 5. She was also out in the hall with some students. In this particular class, they were working on spelling in English. The students had a list of about ten words, and Liz helped them spell them, and then write a sentence using the word. She was really great at helping them construct their own sentence that used the words in a meaningful way- some of the words were hard for 5th graders too! Her students commented that Liz was a great tutor and they liked having her help with their school work.
I unfortunately didn't get to talk to our students very much, as they all had their hands full of students! I did, however, see how important our students are to the elementary and middle-school students. I think that having successful and intelligent role models in their lives really makes the younger students realize the importance of education. Of course they have their teachers as successful role models as well, but I think that our students' statuses as students helps the younger ones to relate to them more. In every group I observed I could see how the Leal students really admired the university students. Even though they may act out or not seem to pay attention, I think that they really value having personal attention from an older peer. While I'm sure that this is true for all the schools in our program, it became especially evident to me when I visited Leal. I cannot overstate the importance of these relationships in the lives of students. Having a successful role model is something that every student should have, and not only are our students successful in their academics, but they speak the native language of the Leal students with whom the work. Personally, I think that our students communicating with them in Spanish places a high value on their native language and shows them that speaking two languages will really advance you in this society. Whether or not the Leal students realize this now, the message is there and our students are responsible for teaching this lesson through their actions and relationships. They did a great job working with the students, and I hope that they realize the impact they are having on the lives of their younger peers!!