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Learning English, One Day at a Time

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b2ap3_thumbnail_CCDOC-Refugee-Soccer-Game-65-copy.pngThe Newcomers ESL Class introduces basic English to newly arrived refugee youth.  The aim of the class is to prepare the children to begin school in the United States.  Catholic Charities has offered this class since the summer of 2006.  The class meets during the months of June and July for two hours a day Monday through Thursday.  This year the class meets for five weeks, devoting one week to each of the following topics:  classroom objects, the school building, American foods, the human body, and family.  Program participants learn not only English, but also accepted classroom behavior, and they make new friends too.  The current teachers are K’Sang Bonyo, and AmeriCorps members Taneah Bryant and Katrina Hruska.  A typical day at the class might look like this:


2:45 The teachers arrive at the class to prepare for the arrival of the students, only to find one 8-year-old Karenni girl from Burma waiting outside the classroom.


3:00 Two young Bhutanese girls arrive at the class.  All three students begin taking out books to look at the pictures.  Eventually one of the girls deposits her book on the shelf and picks up the Connect 4 game.  She carefully inserts the black and red chips in the yellow frame to create interesting patterns.


3:20 The last student has finally arrived!  The class now numbers seven, with three boys and four girls. 


3:30  K’Sang is introducing vocabulary.  He shows the students a picture of an ear and asks if anyone knows the English word for this body part.  One older boy at the back of the room happily, and loudly, says ‘ear!’  K’Sang praises him for knowing the word, and encourages the other students to practice saying the word.  A chorus of ‘ear’ reverberates throughout the small room. 


3:45 Soft chatter in Nepali (a language spoken by Bhutanese refugees) can be heard as the children draw a picture of each of the nine body parts taught today, with the English word written above or below it. 


4:00 The soft chatter grows louder when K’Sang announces it is snack time!  One boy eagerly jumps up to pass out the napkins.  Some children decline the foreign-looking cereal bar offered by Taneah, but eagerly accept the peanuts.  A few of the children quickly drink the water in their plastic cups and ask for more.  It’s not clear if they are competing to see who can drink the most water or are attempting to empty the water pitcher as a team. 


4:20 Katrina announces that today the children will use string and beads to make necklaces and bracelets.  Almost immediately the children descend on her to collect the pieces of string, while K’Sang futilely tells the students to remain seated. 


4:50 Parents and older siblings arrive at the classroom doors to collect the children. 


5:00 The teachers send off the young students, reminding them to come to class the following day.  The room that was filled with laughter and multiple languages grows quiet as the teachers straighten desks, put away scissors, and turn off the lights. 


Positive feedback from refugee youth, their parents, and classroom teachers has encouraged the Refugee Youth Program to continue the program each year.  This unique and enriching service provides a foundation for newly arriving refugee youth that assists them with finding comfort and success as they begin a new school in August.  As the class winds down this summer, the teachers discuss what they will miss most about each child, and share predictions about the expected progress they will all make in the next few months.  

Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte © 2014