HOLLAND — School in the United States can be pretty tricky if English isn’t your first language. Fortunately, the English language learners (ELL) students at Vanderbilt Charter Academy aren’t being left behind, thanks to the ELL team.
The Vanderbilt team divides and conquers to make sure students brush up on their English skills and succeed in school. Generally, Joy Winkle teaches the lower elementary students, Mark Myaard the lower/upper elementary grades and Pam Stradley the upper-elementary/middle school students, though there can be some overlap.
“It’s a pretty broad range of kids,” Myaard said. “Some of our students just recently arrived. We’ve had several from Puerto Rico over the years. Some of our students have been in the country their whole lives, but they live with parents or grandparents who speak primarily Spanish.”
Because the students have a wide range of English skills, there’s no such thing as a typical day for the EL team. Their work ranges from one-on-one time to small groups to the teachers visiting the student’s main classroom for support. Sometimes it’s helping students pick up the basics, and sometimes it’s helping them understand academic language that appears on tests, like “quotient” and “dividend.”
“I take them to my room so we have lots of space to talk, read and sometimes play word games,” Winkle said. “It is very important that students who are English language learners, get time to read out loud and also to discuss many words that come up in their reading, that they do not know the meaning of.”
“The curriculum stays the same, but how you help them understand it changes from student to student,” Stradley said.
The teachers said their favorite part of their job is seeing how the students grow, particularly with younger students. Myaard called his students “wonderful little sponges,” noting that two of his students couldn’t speak English at all at the beginning of the year and now you “couldn’t pick the out of a crowd.”
With the older students, Stradley said there can be more hesitancy and feeling self-conscious when speaking English, but she helps them through it by building relationships with the students.
“It’s amazing to see them year after year and watch them grow,” Stradley said. “Even seeing the progress from the beginning of the year to the end of the year is amazing.”
“It is a pleasure for me to get to know them personally and to know their individual needs so I can help them to succeed in school and life,” Winkle said. “Working with young children makes me happy as they are so honest with their thoughts and sometimes we can laugh together as we learn.”