Campbell ESL teachers help Spanish, Greek speaking students through school

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Standing before their classmates in the frigid morning air, a trio of Campbell Memorial High School students — Maria Meris, 17, Kaleecia Addison, 17, and Shaneira Garcia, 17 — delivered a speech in three languages during the day of the nationwide student walkout to protest gun violence.

Addison went first in English, followed by Garcia in Spanish and then Meris in Greek.

They wanted to ensure all of their classmates understood the speech.

In 2000, Campbell had nearly the same amount — around 8.5 percent — of Spanish speakers and Greek speakers. In 2015, that number has declined somewhat for Greek speakers — down to just under 5 percent of the city’s 8,000-plus population — but Spanish speakers have increased in the city to just under 9 percent.

Nettie McDowell, an English language teacher at Campbell K-7 school, has been teaching English as a Second Language in Campbell for three years, but has been an educator for the past 15. She oversees a small team of three assistants and tutors — including Carmen Garcia, Alda Steiner and Ida Cruz — who help students learn English.

“Every student is different with regard to how fast they’ll pick up the language,” McDowell said. “So we meet the students at their level and work with them daily to help them improve.”

McDowell and her team work with 55 students daily, incorporating gestures and images alongside English words in their lessons.

In addition to teaching English, McDowell and her team must also become familiar with math, science and any other topic their students might see on a homework assignment.

“For most of these students their parents don’t speak enough English to help them with their homework, so a lot of times that responsibility falls on us, because if the students can’t read and understand their homework, they obviously can’t complete it,” McDowell said.

This extra work load for students is why McDowell and the high school’s ESL and Spanish teacher, Priscilla Garcia-Espada, will be part of a local team traveling to Columbus in early April to participate in a statewide teacher’s workshop aimed at developing a more fair grading structure for English-learner students. The findings will then be proposed to the Ohio Department of Education for consideration.

“These students are doing double the work, but they’re on the same grading standards as native English speakers,” Garcia-Espada said. “It can be really discouraging for these students to get back their papers with D’s on them, covered in red ink because they get marked off for grammar. Sometimes they feel like just giving up despite all the progress they’re making.”

Researchers from Stanford University in 2000 found that academic fluency in English took approximately four to seven years of study and practice.

In the high school, Garcia-Espada has seen the ESL program explode from seven students at the end of the previous year to 17 at the beginning of the 2017 academic year, which continued to balloon throughout the year to 37 students.

Only five of Garcia-Espada’s new students are a result of Puerto Rican families fleeing the hurricanes; the rest are immigrants to the city, which includes Greek speakers and two Arabic-speaking students.

Like McDowell, Garcia-Espada and her colleagues at the high school must develop ways to assist students, even if they don’t speak the language themselves.

“With our Arabic and Greek students a lot of times we’ll need to look up words ourselves before we can help translate them for the students. But it’s what we need to do for our students,” Garcia-Espada said.

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