If you’ve lived in Allendale for any length of time, chances are you’ve spent an afternoon at the library and perhaps even checked out a book for two. And chances are you never thought twice about it.
But five years ago, Didier Couvelaire, Allendale’s English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, realized that some of his students weren’t reading at home in part because they had never spent an afternoon at the library.
For students in our ESL program, barriers to academic achievement abound: they may not have reliable transportation or the ability to read street signs. These along with a host of other scenarios mean that caring families are often not equipped to assist their student as he or she strives to master English.
In Allendale Public Schools, it is our privilege to partner with those families and their children to remove barriers and put supports in place to help maximize learning.
When Mr. Couvelaire made the library connection a half-decade ago, he began to look at other correlations that gave insight about ways he could support his students. Reading test data showed that students who did not have access to books throughout the summer lost the equivalent of five months of instruction by the time school began again in September.
He realized that books held the key to success.
And so, with a group of dedicated teachers he began to couple his in-school instruction with use of the reading bus, offering access to the bus a couple days a week. He also spearheaded “ESL After School” and the after-school reading program at the middle school. Mr. Couvelaire coordinates with Allendale’s homework program, as well, to provide additional academic support in all content areas.
“The after school programs are open to kids of all ages. They prepare older students to be good role models. If kids see older brothers reading, younger brothers take note. Teaching them to be good role models helps stimulate a cultural shift: now, instead of moving away from books, we’re seeing our kids loving books,” said Mr. Couvelaire.
While traditional literature continues to provide the basis of Allendale’s ESL instruction, technology has proven to be an invaluable player on the field of fluency. Using an online literacy program called “RazKids” with laptops and earphones, students are able to listen to stories being read and answer questions that are spoken to them at their pace and reading level.
Mr. Couvelaire and his team of support staff also encourages students to create presentations and push themselves to apply their new knowledge. While the class dedicates its efforts on those, he pulls a few students back to his conference table for one-on-one assistance.
Teaching and learning in an ESL classroom is an on-going process of trying new things, assessing effectiveness, communicating with parents, and encouraging kids to keep going, even when barriers seem high. Yet for all the struggle, Mr. Couvelaire says his students don’t seem to want to leave. They’ve enjoyed their years of pushing boundaries together and often return to visit.
“When you have kids who have graduated from the ESL program coming back, you know you’re doing something right.”