Megan Brady, OFLA Beginning Teacher Chair
Spanish Teacher, Marlington Local Schools
As a smaller district in Northeast Ohio, we have a small migrant population who is in our district for approximately the first 6 weeks and the last 6 weeks of the school year. With minimal ELL support, I have tried to brainstorm ways of reaching this group of underrepresented kids and helping them the best we can. Last year, I linked my Spanish Honor Society kids with this group and created a mentor group called Amistad.
The year didn’t go exactly as I had envisioned it, but what year does? Here’s what I learned: with this population of kids, you never know who you’re going to get. I had such a range from really excellent students, who were truly bilingual in both languages, to a 17-year-old being treated as a freshman due to his very limited English, and all the spaces in between. My Spanish Honor Society kids also ranged a little bit, mostly in comfort levels. Some of the kids were fine with putting themselves out there and speaking to them in Spanish, and others were more timid and would try everything in English before finally throwing in a few Spanish words to use a sort of Spanglish. However, by the end of the year, we had some pretty strong friendships, and even swapped social media information, so that I would hear all about our migrant students throughout the year, even though they were scattered across the US.
Luckily, I had the support of my administration and the guidance office. We have our lunch periods split up, so a full period is split with half lunch and half study hall. I used these lunch periods to reach the kids. The guidance counselors allowed me to send a list of migrant and Spanish Honors Society students so that they were placed in my room opposite their lunch (some ended up eating lunch there as well). The first week we did some get-to-know-you activities to help bring everyone together and to feel more at ease. We asked what questions they had, helped them find classes, and talked about the teachers they had and what they can expect from them. It was really interesting to discover how some of our teachers don’t understand how culturally different/difficult seemingly “easy” things, such are creating flashcards, actually are. The science teacher says you need to create flashcards for each chapter by Friday. To the kid who has been here all their lives, this seems pretty straightforward. To a semi-fluent English learner, this is not exactly clear. Therefore, one day we helped a few students get notecards, taught them to cut them in half or fourths to get more bang for their buck, and showed them how to make flashcards. We also added to the flashcards to make sure they were actually useful to those students with limited English. Other activities included just being a voice for them. For example, when teachers would give them homework that requires online access at home, we would ask the teachers to print the assignment or give them extra time, help the students learn to print it themselves, show them where to get that printed paper, and even how to submit online assignments or attach things to emails. We helped two seniors with applying to college, teaching them about FAFSA and its process, find scholarships, and just talk about what it would look like for them to attend in general. I am so excited to say that one of our girls got a free ride and is attending the University of Michigan this year! The excitement in her email to me saying she was accepted and received the free tuition was one of my proudest teacher moments. Other things we discussed, that I didn’t realize were even a necessity, were explaining they need to hurry to their next class and bring books with them because they only have 4 minutes between bells, how to open lockers, how the lunch line works, and what is included in lunch and what is extra.
While we did have some hurdles to overcome, overall, this group was quite successful and I’ve had students asking if they can be a part of it for next year. If you are interested in creating a peer mentor group with ELL students, or even just new students, I highly recommend you take the plunge and get your kids involved. It’s a great activity for your Honor Societies or even just Language clubs or start your own group! I’m happy to help you with logistics, etc if you need a sounding board (firstname.lastname@example.org). Best of luck for a great school year!