EL teachers take extra steps to accommodate kindergarteners
Imagine starting kindergarten during a pandemic – unable to hug new teachers or settle in to new surroundings. Then imagine the 5-year-olds for whom English is not their primary language at home. English Learner teachers in Fayette County Public Schools have done their best to smooth the transition to school for these youngsters amid the COVID-19 restrictions and distance learning.
At Russell Cave Elementary, for instance, teachers set up parking-lot stations to administer the state-required kindergarten language screening, which marks initial placement in the EL program. “We felt like being outside would create a safety net for ourselves and for families to hopefully feel more comfortable in bringing their students in person. Being in an outdoor setting with our masks and plexiglass dividers would be the safest way,” said Austin Bird, who is in his first year at Russell Cave.
Ordinarily, teachers would simply pull individual newcomers from class during the first few weeks of school to assess their listening and speaking skills in English. However, with the late start and COVID-19 concerns, schools modified their procedures this fall. Russell Cave scheduled nearly three dozen students in 30-minute slots on two consecutive Fridays for the language screening. Using a pencil-and-paper booklet, each child pointed to pictures as the teacher asked questions. First, though, parents filled out the usual health sheet and teachers took the students’ temperatures. They also sanitized the table area between families. (The operation moved indoors the second Friday because of cold weather.) “Overall, everyone was very comfortable. Students were excited to be in front of a teacher live instead of in front of a computer screen,” Bird said.
“You get the best results in an academic environment when you have a relationship with the student and their family,” Bird noted. “It takes time to build that trust, but events like this show the caring for the individual student and for that family. Creating that relationship will benefit us whether or not we stay in that virtual setting for the rest of the year or come back in person.”
Meanwhile, across town at Rosa Parks Elementary, Ashleigh Adkins moved a few of her screenings all the way to the child’s front door. “She packed a folding table and chairs, along with cleaning supplies and a clear facemask, to visit students at home. It’s been a huge hit! This is another example of how our FCPS teachers do whatever it takes to support student learning,” said Lori Bowen, the district-level director who oversees EL staff. (A clear mask enables an EL child to watch the teacher’s mouth and see how to produce the sounds in English.)
Adkins was glad to go on the road for a few students whose families were unable to bring them to the school during targeted instructional services, which allows for a limited number of children in the building. She also credited colleague Katie Havelda, the district mental health specialist at Rosa Parks, for helping pave the way. Havelda had already gone to one girl’s house to help with homework in the driveway since her Chromebook was broken. “I loaded up a little card table and all our assessment materials. My mother-in-law had made this cute little butterfly mask for her. Her little brothers and sisters watched from the door,” Adkins recalled after meeting the child.
Like Bird, Adkins was thankful the EL teachers could accommodate their kindergarten families. “It takes all of us coming up with new ways to do things. Everybody is struggling to hang on, and anything we can do to make it easier for the parents and make their kids have a good experience and feel connected to the school and their teachers is appreciated,” she said. “It’s also great for us to see the kids in person.”
(Posted Nov. 2, 2020)