Our Students: Becoming Better Readers and Leaders

“[I’m proud of] the progress that I’ve made. When I arrived here [in this country nine months ago] I didn’t understand anything. Now I can help my child. We came here together. There were things that I could not explain but now I can.” – Carolyn

On June 6, 2017, ten students from our lower level ESOL class in the Highbridge neighborhood of the Bronx read a wordless children’s book, Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day, to over 70 children in the Headstart program located at their site. Multiple copies of this book had been donated by Simon & Schuster to our Books of Their Own program to expand students’ home libraries.

The moment their teacher, Sari Barocas, took a look at this book, she knew she wanted to share it with her students, because she couldn’t stop laughing. The rich illustrations and the delightful story that unfolded within its pages lent itself to teaching English as well as to teaching strategies for reading with children – perfect for an ESOL class that focuses on parents and their children.

Sari observed that by collaborating in pairs and small groups, sharing knowledge, and supporting each other,  the students had developed a strong sense of community in their classroom. She wanted to support their emerging leadership skills by  preparing them to engage with children in their Headstart classrooms.

In advance of the event, Sari taught her students how to use a children’s book as a vehicle for relationship building, conversation, and critical thinking. She used the illustrations as the core text for teaching vocabulary and grammar. Her students enjoyed the book so much and learned so much from it that it seemed natural to share it with children, and they welcomed the opportunity to go into the children’s classrooms and facilitate the reading of the book.

On the day of the event, her students poured into each of the children’s classrooms at once and divided up so that each adult read with a small group of children, using both English and their native language.

When asked about the event afterwards, Sari said, I think it was a very special experience for the children, as well as for the students.  As the students held open the book and oriented the children to the story, the children became increasingly excited and eager to discover what was going to happen next. Laughter and talk filled the room as the children described the story and the adults listened and responded with their complete attention. I could see that the children loved the story, and the students thoroughly enjoyed the interaction. There was an added dimension when a student read with a group that included her own child; you could see how happy and proud the child felt to have her mother read to her and her friends.

For most of the students, reading to a child in a classroom setting was a new experience, one which resulted in increased confidence in themselves. We asked them how they felt after reading to the children:

“This motivates me to read with my children more.” – Maty

“I feel proud because I learned new ways to read a book to my daughter.” – Maria

“I feel proud of myself as both my daughter and I are benefiting. I thank the program.” – Dora

Our students walked away with a great deal of pride in their accomplishment; they were able to recognize how much progress they’d made in learning English and they are proud that they now know how to use reading with their children as a way of deepening their bond with them.

We asked Sari how it feels to be part of our students’ journey and provide them with the resources they need to succeed:

“I was extremely proud of my students and happy for them. The children didn’t want them to leave! They had a live experience of how reading with young children fosters relationships, success in school, a love of learning, and so much else. My students want to do it again, and I know that they now have the tools to carry on without me.

It is gratifying to help others accomplish more than they initially thought they could, especially when you know that their accomplishment is making the lives of their own children, as well as other children, so much better. Our students are making a positive contribution to the lives of others in their new country. The two-generation model that is the focus of Literacy Partner’s work is a powerful one that has the potential to dramatically improve the lives of families who came to this country hoping for a better future for their children. As a grandchild of immigrants myself, I can see the thread of how the experience that the first generation of immigrants has can lead to a better America for everyone.

We at Literacy Partners look forward to having more events in which students develop their knowledge of the English language, gain confidence in their increased abilities, and then make positive contributions within their communities and beyond.

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