Last Saturday at Together with Tech, the district’s first student-led technology conference, Maria Nerio, Dominga Hernandez and Maria Puac just couldn’t hide their faces of excitement and happiness.
The three students from Liberty High School, with only two years in the United States, were about to present to their peers and judges how their learning had transformed due to the impact of technology. Not an easy task for them considering that their first language is not English. Maria Nerio speaks Spanish, Dominga speaks Mam and Spanish and Maria Puac dominates Quiche and Spanish as well.
Ms. Tonja Fraga, their ESL teacher at Liberty, describes their exponential language growth: “Maria Nerio arrived from El Salvador with some background in English. However, Maria Puac and Dominga Hernandez were both raised in indigenous communities in Guatemala with no prior exposure to the language. My first interaction with my students is always to ask them basic questions: What is your last name? Where are you from? When is your birthday? etc. Neither Maria Puac nor Dominga Hernandez were able to answer those questions as the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year. As Dominga so succinctly puts it, ‘Last year, my mind was empty.’ Along with their classmates, these three began to develop a liking for the language which they were willing to practice with me and others in the class. Their class, in particular, accelerated so quickly that by January, I’d forgotten they were beginners and launched into the novel HOLES with them! It was a fabulous experience, and their ability to converse and read in English increased greatly.”
Ms. Shelbi Blackmon, Instructional Technology Program Specialist, had the “privilege”, as she explained, to work with the three students the last couple of weeks leading up to the tech conference. “They were amazing and able to take the information from the rubric and created a presentation that was organized and demonstrated how their learning was changing due to the technology. It was an honor to work with these three young ladies and learn how far each have grown within the last two years of being in the US and as students at Liberty HS.”
I am so glad I met these three young ladies, their presentation not only touched me, but reassured me of why I began working with students. It was such a blessing. Ms. Blackmon
Multilingual Program Specialist, Lia Oprea, highlights the campus initiative of following the QTEL model as part of a fundamental strategy to work with ELLs. “The Liberty administrative team has been very supportive in collaborating with the Newcomer division by organizing classroom structure with language focus, which means that students speak, listen, read and write every day in all classes –even in PE. Program Specialist, Vickie Tucker, often holds PLC trainings and conducts coaching cycles with the teachers while also providing materials and tutors to support students in their learning process.”
Their ability to speak English in a public setting also speaks much about their individual motivation to learn. “For two of these girls specifically, explains Ms. Fraga, their motivation was their need to be able to use English in their respective jobs. All three drive themselves to improve to the point that even when it is only the three of them together, they will often choose to converse in English, regardless of the language limitations which still exist.”
They are exceptional role models for the other students in our school, for their families, their countries, and for other aspiring ESL students. Ms. Fraga
Without a doubt, Ms. Fraga, Ms. Blackmon and Ms. Oprea agree that the event empowered them and provided valuable opportunities to expand their skills boosting their confidence and pride in themselves and their school.