IB students work with EL students to learn languages

Malcolm Durfee O'Brien, editor-in-chief

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International Baccalaureate Spanish classes and English Learners began a new joint project between their classes to help students get better acquainted with the languages they are attempting to learn. The effort, spearheaded by English Learners teacher Karen Brown and Spanish teacher Anthony Almeida, had their first introductory sessions on November 12 and 13, with students from each class attempting to introduce themselves in their respective languages. 

Brown hopes that the English Learners classes will have a positive way to practice and learn English without the pressure of a constant interaction. 

“Spanish is our predominant language,” Brown said, “but we have students who speak Karen, Swahili, Somali, and Nepali languages as well, they will ultimately have a non-threatening way to meet someone from a different culture without the fear and pressure of daily face-to-face encounters in the hallway.” 

Almeida also hopes that his students will have the opportunity to learn from native speakers of Spanish and gain a greater grasp of the language from these interactions, as well as fulfilling a not-fully addressed need from the group. 

“We are helping the EL students branch out, communicating with, interacting with the rest of the school, and we’re trying to help them out,” Almeida said in explaining the major goal of the joint project, “part of IB is community service, so we’re trying to help out some students that need help and hopefully our class gets something out of it too.” 

The early stages of the project were entirely focused on introductions, with the IB Spanish class introducing themselves in English to the English Learners class composed mainly of Spanish-speakers trying to learn English, though there are many other languages represented in the EL class. 

These first introductions, conducted over Microsoft Teams’ video chat function, revealed a level of apprehension from students on both sides, with the Spanish students explicitly saying they felt unprepared to do introductions and many students from the English Learners class hesitant to come up and introduce themselves.  

Despite this early consternation from the students, everyone did end up doing their introductions and feeling fairly comfortable with the individuals from the other class. 

Brown makes clear that this is just a first step for the project, with another phase in December focusing on the writing of and performance of bilingual poetry from both classes, with a poetry-slam planned between the classes in mid-December. 

“The goal of the project is to bridge borders through bilingual poetry,” Brown said, “The students will do an exploratory journey using the book, ‘Cool Salsa,’ as a guide, we will work on poetry and other creative activities to help them feel comfortable with sharing with a native speaker of a different language.” 

According to Brown and Almeida, the ultimate goal of the joint interactions between their classes is to develop greater understanding between two usually separated groups of students and build a relationship with someone they may not have otherwise met. 

“The end goal is not only providing an opportunity for the students to meet others while incorporating technology, but for them to develop a bond with an unlikely friend from a different culture,” Brown said.