Earlier this school year, a second-grader’s parents approached Soda Creek Elementary School English-language learner teacher Ann Coon. In their hands, the parents held their son’s math homework.
Finding their voice
Steamboat Springs School District has more English-language learners than ever before. While teachers and administrators are adjusting to the growing trend, ELL students are working to fit in to their new home and maintain their cultural identity.
Despite the student’s advanced math skills, Coon said, there was something keeping him from completing his homework. His parents couldn’t read the English instructions that came with the assignment.
They wore a look of helplessness.
Coon had run into this problem before. The students were learning English, but their parents spoke primarily — if not exclusively — Spanish at home. She had bridged that gap in communication before by holding parent conferences and showing parents resources their children could use to get help.
But it wasn’t enough, and when the second-grader’s parents showed up, Coon said the answer was “glaringly obvious” to her.
There should be a homework club.
Coon rounded up high school volunteers, and with the organization of school mentor Becky Kruger from Partners in Routt County, the homework club is packed every Monday after school.
It provides mostly ELL students with 1 1/2 hours to get the help they need. It isn’t students miserably burying their faces into their homework. It’s fun because with people like Kruger, Coon and the high school volunteers providing one-on-one instruction, the kids understand what they are being taught.
The six tables are packed with students. At one table, Coon helps a student understand a punctuation exercise. A few seats over, one of the volunteers gives pointers to a student working on a fill-in-the-blank vocabulary exercise.
Over at the computers sits fourth-grader Hugo Arvizu, who fires up the Reflex Math program, a big hit among the elementary students. The program allows students to get their lessons in Spanish, but Hugo goes with English.
“It was pretty attractive when I first saw it,” Hugo said. “I was like, ‘This is the first time I like math.’”
At home, Hugo said, his parents are Spanish speakers. He plays “teacher-student” with his parents, giving them English “homework.” Like most of the ELL students at homework club, Hugo speaks strikingly good English. He even admits that he’s starting to forget some Spanish.
A couple of tables away is a second-grader who is new to the U.S. He works quietly but diligently on his homework. When the teachers aren’t able to lend a hand, students fill the void. For the new student, his peers can help translate what the volunteers can’t.
“They help each other,” Kruger said. “It’s cool because they’ll translate. It’s incredible seeing a kindergartner translating.”
Kruger turns on an episode of “SpongeBob SquarePants” for the kids to watch as the day winds down, but very few notice. They’re busy scribbling away at their homework assignments and asking for help because, as Coon explains, they might not get that chance later on.
“It just became very obvious with that cultural piece, (parents sometimes) can’t even support them with their homework,” Coon said.
To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll