By Rachel Ravina, Staff Writer
(Nov. 29, 2019) Equip, empower and engage: it’s a mantra that Buckingham Elementary School English Learner teacher Karen Conner said she recites for her students and their families.
Conner addressed members of the county’s board of education during Tuesday’s meeting “to bring awareness, to build empathy and to focus on our strengths at Buckingham, which is family engagement with our English learner community.”
Conner teaches pre-kindergarten through fourth grade students at the Berlin school. She added that 148 students take advantage of English learner services at Worcester County Public Schools, although there are other students whose first language is not English, but aren’t eligible for those services, she said.
There are roughly 84,000 English Learner students in Maryland, according to an enrollment survey for the 2018-19 school year. Of those children, about 76 percent are Spanish speakers and 14.51 percent all other languages.
Conner said Buckingham Elementary School has implemented several technological and educational programs into the English learner curriculum.
Class Dojo, a sharing platform, allows teachers to share photos, stories, updates and students’ positive reinforcement during the school day with parents. There is also a translation component, which Conner said is useful for her English learner families.
“I tap the button and now it’s in English, and the family and I can discuss the strengths and the weaknesses we’re working on with their child, and to reassure them that they’re learning English at a pace which we find acceptable to gain English proficiency,” Conner said.
She added that it’s been a great tool to have a more detailed conversation with parents and guardians.
“So when I send [a message] to a family that speaks Arabic in the home, they’re able to just quickly translate my words into their heritage language, read what I have to say, and we’ve been overwhelmed with the response of whichever language of origin is that families are expressing themselves more, because they’re not limited to the words they know in English or the expressions that they have,” Conner said.
As for increasing inclusion, Conner holds a family literacy class for English learner students and their loved ones.
“It gives them a level of confidence, a level of security,” Conner said. “My families that come with their moms and the children are able to work on their homework together to have more explanations.”
Conner emphasized the importance of building on that established foundation of family engagement.
Earlier this spring, Buckingham Elementary School received a $750 grant to study the monarch butterflies’ migration.
“I think really it celebrates their heritage. It honors their culture,” she said.
Conner added that they had eggs, caterpillars and butterflies this past spring. Students were able to learn about the life cycle and use other subjects to gain a full understanding of the butterfly’s journey to Mexico and back.
“When we started the school year … we had a garden full of caterpillars,” Conner said. “So to see that life cycle happen does give the children a sense of hope, a sense of promise and to know when they come back that they have a special spot that honors and respects them and their families.”
Conner said the number of English learners on the Eastern Shore is growing.
“So all of a sudden you have all these children that are middle school, high school with little to no English, and they may be Haitian Creole, they may be Sri Lankan, from everywhere, and then we have to be ,as a public school system, we have to be ready,” she said.
In the event of an influx of additional English learners in Worcester County, Conner said, “We just have to expand the programs we already have in place.”
This article was updated to reflect that there are 148 english learner students at Worcester County Public Schools.