Centre tutors help Boyle students break the language barrier

December 12, 2003|GARY MOYERS

Not all public school students count English as their primary language.

Immigrants and exchange students have grown in number in recent years, and school systems have come up with a number of ways to help those students cope with a curriculum based on the English language.

Three years ago, a Centre College student approached Carol Reed, English language learning resource teacher for Boyle County, and asked if there might be a need for some language tutors in the school system.

"Betsy Dahms was a student at Centre three years ago when I began work in Boyle County," said Reed. "She was a student at that time majoring in Spanish, and she was also the volunteer coordinator for the Spanish program at Centre. She was looking for community service projects for the students and asked if we could use help. I jumped at the offer."


Since its inception, the Centre volunteer program has grown until more than 30 students are involved this year.

"I meet with the Centre volunteers at the beginning of the fall term, and determine how their schedules can mesh with our students'," said Reed. "They send me their schedules, plus their extracurricular activities, and we work from there. Plus, we have to do a background check on all the volunteers."

Reed said the Centre tutors provide classroom instruction for groups as well as one-on-one tutoring for any student for whom English is not the primary language.

People "need to be able to understand English to function in this country, especially in the school system," said Reed. "And with more and more students from other countries moving here, whether permanently or temporarily, the need for tutoring grows every year."

The majority of students in Boyle County's program are Hispanics at Junction City Elementary, said Reed.

"It takes 10 to 12 years to become academically proficient in a language, but we're not shooting for that with our students," said Reed. "We test our students with a standardized test to get a baseline skill level, and then map our teaching accordingly. We want functional knowledge, to enable the students to understand and communicate well enough in English to succeed in school."

Samantha Mahaffey, a Centre freshman from Louisville, is majoring in biology and runs cross country for the college. She gave a class presentation Thursday to first-graders at Perryville Elementary.

"This was a simple exercise in which I taught the students some basic Spanish words and phrases," she said. "Then we did a Christmas dance to demonstrate some of the words."

Mahaffey said tutoring is a learning experience for her as well as her students.

"It's been very rewarding for me," she said. "I did some volunteer tutoring in high school, and I like the interaction with the children. It's a lot of fun, and it pushes me to stay ahead of the students. But it's very rewarding when you see a light bulb go off in their heads."

Reed said more than one Centre student has told her they are considering a change to the teaching profession after serving as tutors.

"It's been a wonderful program for our students, and I think for the Centre students," she said. "I've had some volunteers tell me they enjoy this so much they're thinking of becoming instructors of some kind. All of them come away with something from the experience."

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